Study finds paediatric cancer patients at no greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection
Results from the first national study of children with cancer who test positive from COVID-19 has found that these patients do not appear to be at any increased risk of severe COVID-19 infection compared to healthy children.
The team, led by the University of Birmingham, and including University of Manchester, the study analysed the severity of COVID-19 infection in children with cancer.
Published in the British Journal of Cancer, results found that the majority of patients either had mild infections or were asymptomatic. No patients died from COVID-19 and only 5% required intensive care support.
Launched in April, the UK Paediatric Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project was set up following a similar project in adult cancer patients coordinated from the University of Birmingham. The aim was to collect real time outcome data on all children with cancer in the UK who on admission to hospital tested positive for COVID-19 so that the severity of their illness could be collected nationally.
Very few children on cancer treatment have had severe COVID-19, and the rate of severe infection is no greater in children on treatment than in the general childhood population. The study provides strong evidence that we should continue to treat childhood cancer during the pandemic with the intensive treatments shown to have the best outcomes
Designed in cooperation with the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG), the project enabled all centres in the UK that look after children with cancer to enrol into the study.
Partner organisations involved in the oversight of the project included Public Health England, Universities of Manchester, Leeds, York, Nottingham, and their affiliated Children’s Hospitals.
The data gathered was shared with clinicians and the CCLG in real-time to inform advice on shielding in this group of patients. Due to the data produced from this study, the CCLG was able to amend the shielding advice to remove the majority of children with cancer from the group needing to shield.
Dr Martin Mccabe, Clinical Snr Lecturer in Paediatric, Teenage and Young Adult Cancer at the University of Manchester. said: "The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has been a very worrying time for children with cancer who are undergoing treatment and their families. In this study, all of the UK children's cancer centres provided real-time data on SARS-CoV-2 infections. Its results are highly reassuring.
"Very few children on cancer treatment have had severe COVID-19, and the rate of severe infection is no greater in children on treatment than in the general childhood population. The study provides strong evidence that we should continue to treat childhood cancer during the pandemic with the intensive treatments shown to have the best outcomes."
Lead author, Gerard Millen, Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Fellow in the University of Birmingham’s Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit said: “The COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly in the early part of 2020 and there were initial concerns about the severity of the infection in adults with cancer. Whilst children overall seemed to be less severely affected, little was known about the effects in children with cancer.
“The results are reassuring to parents around the country that children with cancer are at no greater risk of developing serious symptoms of COVID-19 than other children.”
Senior author, Professor Pam Kearns, Paediatric Oncologist and Director of the University of Birmingham Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences said: “This project has been critical in allowing clinicians to analyse real-time data and provide evidence to reassure families of vulnerable children and young people with cancer that they are not at increased risk of severe COVID-19 infection”.
Ashley Gamble, Chief Executive of Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, said: “We’re delighted to have been able to support this vital project, which has enabled us to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people with cancer.
“This has allowed the CCLG to provide evidence-based guidance to support parents and families of children with cancer to assess their risks and make informed decisions about family life during the pandemic, including supporting children, where appropriate, to stop shielding where the risks are lower than originally thought, and return to school to minimise the impact on their education.”