City-based oncologists have demanded that cancer patients be vaccinated without further delay as they experience greater Covid-19 severity, complications and mortality than the general population. They said chemotherapy lowers the blood count of cancer patients, which further suppresses their immune system.
Meanwhile, a recent study by an international team of researchers has found that nearly 94% of patients with cancer developed a good immune response to the coronavirus mRNA vaccines three to four weeks after receiving their second shot. The findings of this study were published in the journal ‘Cancer Cell’.
According to a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Bengaluru-based National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research, the total number of cases of cancer in men, in India, was estimated to be 6,79,421 in 2020 and may reach 7,63,575 in 2025.
Among women, the total number of cases was estimated at 7,12,758 in 2020 and is likely to reach 8,06,218 in 2025. Breast cancer (2,38,908) is expected to be the most common type of cancer in 2025, followed by cancer of the lungs (1,11,328) and mouth (90,060).
Dr Suhas Agre, medical oncologist at ACI Cumballa Hill Hospital, said cancer tends to depress the body’s immune system, and cancer patients are usually older, which is also a risk factor for Covid-19. As Covid-19 primarily attacks the lungs, causing acute respiratory failure, people with lung cancer are at greater risk. Some advanced types of cancer impact organ function, such as lung or kidney function.
Dr Agre said, “To avoid getting infected with coronavirus, it is of utmost importance that cancer patients get vaccinated.” He said most experts recommend vaccination as long as the vaccine is safe for use, “even if the expected protection rate in cancer patients may be lower than the general population”.
Dr Sanjay Dudhat, head of onco-surgery department at Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, said none of the cancer patients have shown any side-effects till date after taking the Covid-19 jab. But the patient who is on radiation or chemotherapy should consult respective oncologists before taking the vaccine. Moreover, the Covid-19 infection was minimal in cancer patients who were treated in a particular period, and they experienced mild symptoms or no symptoms when quarantined and treated at home.
Dr Dudhat recommended that all cancer patients must take vaccination, though some caution may have to be exercised in a very advanced stage of cancer. “Vaccine should be avoided in patients who are on certain monoclonal antibodies treatment and undergoing bone marrow transplants. Even after cancer surgery, if there is no further treatment, vaccination can be given six to eight weeks after major surgery,” said Dr Dudhat.