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Israeli study reveals cancer patients are not at the risk group for COVID-19

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Aakash Molpariya
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People with cancer, contrary to what has been managed so far, do not have a greater risk of contagion of coronavirus thanks to their oncological treatments, according to a joint study by two Israeli scientific institutions.

Research recently published by the Technion Institute of Technology and Rambam Hospital indicates that cancer treatments make the immune system more resistant to SARS-CoV-2.

It is believed that the virus hits harder when it turns the human body’s best defense, the immune system, into its own enemy, causing an immune overreaction that can be lethal, called a cytokine storm.

The anticancer treatments that patients receive on many occasions weaken their immune system and, paradoxically, researchers believe that this limits the impact of the virus precisely because the person treated has less immune arsenal in their body to turn against them.

“Our hypothesis is that because the immune system is weakened, the reaction to the virus in these patients is lower than the rest of the population,” said Professor Yuval Shaked, director of the Technion-integrated cancer center, Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, in a statement issued by the institute.

Many cancer patients, asymptomatic in COVID-19

The study published in the medical journal Cancers indicates that none of the 8,000 cancer patients at Rambam Hospital, in the northern city of Haifa, who had a medical appointment between December and June, had suffered from symptoms of coronavirus or had been diagnosed with the virus.

Shaked and his team’s suspicion is not that cancer patients were not getting, but were infected like the others, but were in a better way to fight the virus, to such an extent that they were asymptomatic.

To test their hypothesis, Shaked and Irit Ben-Aharon, director of the department of oncology at Rambam, carried out a study of the blood of 164 patients who were undergoing active anticancer treatment and 107 health workers, who acted as a control group. They all had blood tests done on three different occasions.

The researchers found that the rate of development of COVID-19 antibodies in both groups was around 2%; for cancer patients, it was 2.4 and for those in the control group, 1.94. That is, more than 2% of cancer patients had been infected with the virus and had overcome it without realizing that it had been.

Israel, the country with the most infections per capita

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the categorization of cancer patients as a risk group, together with cardiac, diabetic and extremely obese patients, has caused many of them to avoid going to hospitals and postpone treatments and operations, fearing possible contagions.

Researchers note that this study opens a window for better pandemic administration, however, they also say that more, and broader, studies are needed to corroborate their data.

On September 23, Israel registered the highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day, with almost 7,000 new infections. The country has been in confinement for six days and the national coordinator of the pandemic, Rony Ganzu, today complained about the lack of citizen cooperation.

As a result of the pandemic in the country, the coronavirus cabinet has approved to plan for stricker lockdown and new measures to control the pandemic will go into effect on coming Friday.

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