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Research led by the Nuffield Department of Medicine has been published in Nature Scientific Reports, investing the effect of COVID-19 across the cancer population over the course of the pandemic. This analysis is the world’s largest and most comprehensive cancer evaluation showcasing the United Kingdom’s digital capabilities and the potential of population-scale cancer studies.

To date, a small number of studies have analysed the effect of the pandemic on cancer patients. However, these have often been snapshot analyses in response to new SARS-CoV-2 variants, or reliant on manual processes to curate information. In this new study published in Nature Scientific Reports led by Associate Professor Dr Lennard YW Lee, researchers successfully deployed a population-scale digital cancer study across England.

The study was delivered by the UK Coronavirus Cancer Programme, which is one of the longest-running and most successful pandemic programmes for cancer patients. Over the course of the pandemic, nearly 250 researchers have contributed, and this was the 15th publication from the consortium. 

Analysing nearly 200,000 coronavirus-positive tests in patients with cancer and comparing them to the 18.2 million positive tests in the population from 2020-22, researchers were able to identify and describe individuals facing ongoing increased risk. 

For the most part, the results were reassuring. Reflecting the great strides by cancer centres, including the impact of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the case-hospitalisation rates for patients with cancer dropped from 30.58% in early 2021 to 7.45% in 2022. Case mortality rates also decreased from 20.53% to 3.25%. Individuals at higher risk included those with blood cancer, metastatic disease and the use of B and T cell-depleting therapies. However, highlighting work still to do, the risk of hospitalisation and mortality remains 2.10x and 2.54x higher in patients with cancer, respectively compared to the population. 

Associate Professor Dr Lennard Lee, who joined NDM from the Department of Oncology said: Our patients often ask us why we don’t deploy our population-scale digital capabilities and use data to help those affected by cancer. In this study, we showed that this was possible and furthermore, it can be used to protect cancer patients by finding those still at risk. New cancer digital trials are the future. More can and will be done to help those with cancer. It was an absolute honour to trailblaze this study for patients and their oncologists.