School of Medicine

The Pulse

Dr. Suki Subbiah Helps Discover COVID Impact on Cancer Patients

Leslie Capo, Director of Information Services

Suki Subbiah, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, is one of the oncologist authors of a recent paper that was the first large and broad geographic study to analyze the clinical impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with cancer. The study, published in The Lancetreported the outcomes of more than 900 patients with cancer who also had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. The study also identified risk factors that contributed to more severe illness and death.

“Given the worldwide prevalence of cancer and the high transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2, an understanding of the disease course of COVID-19 and factors influencing clinical outcomes in patients with cancer is urgently needed,” notes Dr. Subbiah, who is also a member of LSU Health New Orleans' Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center.

The de-identified data were drawn from the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19) registry database. CCC19 was created in March 2020, to study the clinical characteristics and course of illness among patients with COVID-19 who have a current or past diagnosis of cancer.

The researchers report that 13% of the patients in the study died within 30 days of a diagnosis of COVID-19. Increasing age, male sex, former smoking, the presence of two or more other illnesses, and treatment with azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine were associated with a high risk of death. The authors caution that they “cannot formally ascertain if the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin gives any clinical benefit or overall harm to patients, given the non-randomized nature of the study, and the possibility of other potential clinical imbalances.”

People with cancer are at increased risk for COVID-related death because the effects of cancer treatments, supportive medications such as steroids and the immunosuppressive properties of cancer itself can potentially compromise their immune function. As well, patients with cancer are often older and have one or more other major illnesses.

The authors conclude, “Among patients with cancer and COVID-19, 30-day all-cause mortality was high and associated with general risk factors and risk factors unique to patients with cancer. Longer follow-up is needed to better understand the effect of COVID-19 on outcomes in patients with cancer, including the ability to continue specific cancer treatments.”

The study was funded by the American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health, and Hope Foundation for Cancer Research.