Determinants of enhanced vulnerability to coronavirus disease 2019 in UK patients with cancer: a European study

OnCovid study group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Despite high contagiousness and rapid spread, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has led to heterogeneous outcomes across affected nations. Within Europe (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) is the most severely affected country, with a death toll in excess of 100,000 as of January 2021. We aimed to compare the national impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the risk of death in UK patients with cancer versus those in continental EU. Methods: We performed a retrospective analysis of the OnCovid study database, a European registry of patients with cancer consecutively diagnosed with COVID-19 in 27 centres from 27th February to 10th September 2020. We analysed case fatality rates and risk of death at 30 days and 6 months stratified by region of origin (UK versus EU). We compared patient characteristics at baseline including oncological and COVID-19–specific therapy across UK and EU cohorts and evaluated the association of these factors with the risk of adverse outcomes in multivariable Cox regression models. Findings: Compared with EU (n = 924), UK patients (n = 468) were characterised by higher case fatality rates (40.38% versus 26.5%, p < 0.0001) and higher risk of death at 30 days (hazard ratio [HR], 1.64 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 1.36–1.99]) and 6 months after COVID-19 diagnosis (47.64% versus 33.33%; p < 0.0001; HR, 1.59 [95% CI, 1.33–1.88]). UK patients were more often men, were of older age and have more comorbidities than EU counterparts (p < 0.01). Receipt of anticancer therapy was lower in UK than in EU patients (p < 0.001). Despite equal proportions of complicated COVID-19, rates of intensive care admission and use of mechanical ventilation, UK patients with cancer were less likely to receive anti–COVID-19 therapies including corticosteroids, antivirals and interleukin-6 antagonists (p < 0.0001). Multivariable analyses adjusted for imbalanced prognostic factors confirmed the UK cohort to be characterised by worse risk of death at 30 days and 6 months, independent of the patient's age, gender, tumour stage and status; number of comorbidities; COVID-19 severity and receipt of anticancer and anti–COVID-19 therapy. Rates of permanent cessation of anticancer therapy after COVID-19 were similar in the UK and EU cohorts. Interpretation: UK patients with cancer have been more severely impacted by the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic despite societal risk mitigation factors and rapid deferral of anticancer therapy. The increased frailty of UK patients with cancer highlights high-risk groups that should be prioritised for anti–SARS-CoV-2 vaccination. Continued evaluation of long-term outcomes is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-202
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Cancer
  • COVID-19
  • Europe
  • Mortality
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • UK

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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