Coronavirus infection in cancer patients (before vaccination) disturbs the immune system for a long time

Recently, researchers from the University of Antwerp, Antwerp University Hospital, Maria Middelares General Hospital and Nicholas General Hospital conducted a study about the effect of a COVID-19 infection in cancer and non-cancer patients. The study shows that the coronavirus changes the immune system, sometimes for a long time.

Cancer patient who participated in the study exhibited a disturbed immune system for up to three months after their COVID-19 infection. Some body proteins that are involved with this immune response have a scientifically confirmed stimulating effect on the growth of tumours. Researchers saw this effect primarily with haematological tumours. These are malignant abnormalities of the blood and of the blood-forming organs, such as bone marrow, the spleen and lymph nodes.

Extra attention for protection and follow up

Cancer patients are advised to undergo regular follow up with their physician or specialist.

‘This study shows that, in cancer patients who have had a COVID-19 infection before being vaccinated, the immune system can change and some patients can develop a chronic inflammatory response. Certain body proteins that are created by an immune response like this are known to be substances that can stimulate the growth of existing tumours, primarily haematological cancers. This research does not suggest that a SARS-CoV-2 infection can induce cancer, but that the growth of an existing tumour can be accelerated. Only regular monitoring of cancer patients can prevent a cancer from rapidly worsening, without needing to intervene.

For this reason, it is vital that cancer care not be put off. It goes without saying that we emphasise the importance of protection measures, such as vaccination, a face mask and social distancing, to our cancer patients’, says Prof. Peter van Dam, MD; study coordinator and coordinator of the Multidisciplinary Oncological Centre of Antwerp (MOCA).

Cancer patients participated in the study prior to being vaccinated for COVID-19. Follow-up studies are currently examining the effect of a COVID-19 infection on tumour development in cancer patients after being vaccinated.

This study was made possible by The Fight Against Cancer, the GOA Grant of the University of Antwerp and the EU Orchestra.

You can find the study at: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6694/13/22/5718/htm