COVID-19 Outcomes Worse for Black Cancer Patients

COVID-19 Outcomes Worse for Black Cancer Patients

Among Black people and white people diagnosed with cancer and COVID-19, Black people had worse COVID outcomes than white people.
Apr 1, 2022.

Among Black people and white people diagnosed with cancer and COVID-19, Black people had worse COVID outcomes than white people, according to a study.

The research was published online on March 28, 2022, by the journal JAMA Network Open. Read “Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Outcomes Among Black and White Patients With Cancer.”


About the study

People diagnosed with cancer have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 if they get the virus. But research shows that certain racial and ethnic groups — especially non-Hispanic Black people — have been affected more by COVID-19 than other groups. For example, throughout the pandemic, Black people have had higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death than white people.

In this study, the researchers wanted to know if there were differences in COVID outcomes among Black people and white people diagnosed with cancer.

The researchers looked at the medical records of 3,506 people diagnosed with cancer and COVID-19:

  • half the people were women, and half were men

  • half the people were younger than 67, and half were older

  • 30% were Black people

  • 70% were white people

  • 20% had been diagnosed with breast cancer — the most common type of cancer among people in the study

  • 30% received cancer treatment four weeks before being diagnosed with COVID-19

  • 54% were considered to be in cancer remission or had no evidence of disease

The researchers followed half of the people for fewer than 42 days and half for a longer period of time.

Black people in the study who were diagnosed with COVID-19 were more likely to have certain other health conditions than white people in the study:

  • 45% of Black people were considered obese versus 38% of white people

  • 38% of Black people had diabetes versus 24% of white people

  • 23% of Black people had kidney disease versus 16% of white people

Black people were more likely to have moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms than white people:

  • 15% of Black people had severe COVID-19 versus 11% of white people

  • 41% of Black people had moderate COVID-19 versus 34% of white people

Lung and breathing COVID-19 complications were the most common among both groups, but Black people had higher rates than white people:

  • 42% of Black people had lung and breathing complications

  • 35% of white people had lung and breathing complications

Black people also had higher rates of kidney injury and heart problems because of COVID-19 than white people.

The researchers also found that Black people were more likely to be treated with hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 and less likely to be treated with remdesivir than white people.

Remdesivir is an antiviral medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19 in adults and children ages 12 and older. Hydroxychloroquine is a malaria drug. The FDA withdrew hydroxychloroquine’s emergency use authorization after research showed it was not effective in treating COVID-19.

When looking at COVID-19 outcomes, the researchers found that Black people had higher hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, and mechanical ventilation rates than white people.

Overall, Black people were more likely to die from any cause during the study.

Among the Black people in the study, the researchers linked obesity to a higher risk of more severe COVID-19 infection, as well as a higher risk of dying within 30 days of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

“We saw worse COVID-19 illness at presentation, higher rates of hospitalization, higher rates of intensive care unit admission, higher rates of mechanical ventilation, and worse death rates in Black patients compared to non-Hispanic white patients, even after making the two groups comparable in terms of type, status, and treatment of cancer by statistical analysis methods,” senior author Dimpy Shah, MD, PhD, assistant professor of population health sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said in a statement.

“Race in medicine is largely a social construct because the majority of differences in health outcomes between Black patients and white patients are due to systematic racialization,” she added. “Some of the societal root causes of health disparities, including lack of access to health care, social determinants of health, pre-existing comorbidities, and access to clinical research, are common to both cancer and COVID-19, and together these two diseases create a perfect storm.”


What this means for you

This study’s results are very troubling for Black people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Other research strongly suggests that people diagnosed with cancer have a higher risk of getting COVID-19 than people who have not been diagnosed with cancer. This risk is higher for people who were recently diagnosed with cancer, especially Black people.

But knowing you have a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and having serious complications and worse outcomes can be motivation to stay vigilant about your safety. This awareness also can encourage you to keep following COVID-19 precautions, even if the rest of the world isn’t. It’s extremely important that you:

  • practice physical distancing

  • wear a face mask that fits snugly when you go out of the house

  • wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands

  • avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces

  • clean and disinfect surfaces you touch frequently, including doorknobs, light switches, phones, keyboards, handles, and faucets

  • be alert for any COVID-19 symptoms, including loss of smell or taste, as well as fever, cough, and shortness of breath

  • talk to your doctor about COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and get fully vaccinated as soon as you can if it’s recommended for you

Learn more about Coronavirus (COVID-19): What People With Breast Cancer Need to Know.

To talk with others about COVID-19 and breast cancer, join the conversation on All things COVID-19 or coronavirus in our community.

Written by: Jamie DePolo, senior editor

— Last updated on July 14, 2022, 4:42 PM

Reviewed by 1 medical adviser
Brian Wojciechowski, MD
Crozer Health System, Philadelphia area, PA
Learn more about our advisory board
Share your feedback
Help us learn how we can improve our research news coverage.