UM Cure 2020 is following COVID-19 pandemic with concern and is focused now on updating the most useful information for cancer patients, particularly those who have a diagnosis of a rare cancer.


We are facing the largest public health emergency of the last century - COVID-19 pandemic. 

A health condition is said to be Endemic when it occurs at a steady rate within a population. If it reaches levels beyond endemic levels, it is named an outbreak which can become an epidemic if it spreads to a larger geographic area. Since the virus has spread over several countries and continents, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 12th, 2020.

COVID-19 is the official name of the respiratory infection caused by the new coronavirus: ‘CO’ for corona since the spiky shape of the virus resembles a crown, ‘VI’ for virus, ‘D’ for disease, and ‘19’ because it was identified in 2019. The first coronavirus was discovered in the 1960s and this family of viruses can cause from common colds to serious respiratory diseases. 

COVID-19 mortality is higher than the typical seasonal flu, but lower than observed in two recent severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks caused by other coronaviruses. However this pandemic is affecting a larger number of people due to the fact that it is caused by a coronavirus that seems to be much more contagious - SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2).

According to the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus spreads mainly from person-to-person:

  • The virus can spread through respiratory droplets from an infected person who coughs or sneezes;
  • Droplets may reach the mouth or nose of people who are close (within about 2 meters), leading to a new infection;
  • Droplets can also land on surfaces, where the virus may survive for a few hours or up to several days (according to the latest WHO information), which people might then touch; this could potentially lead to an infection if a person touches their mouth or nose.

Although there is scarce data about how COVID-19 impacts patients with cancer, a recent article from China, published on February 24th in JAMA, states that the mortality is being reported higher for those with older age, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, being 5.6% in this latter group, more than twice higher than the overall average of 2.3%. 

Generally speaking, cancer patients have higher risk for contracting infections and higher probability of having more serious complications from them, due to their reduced body defenses caused by the malignancy and some anticancer treatments that weaken the immune system. It is believed that the same happens with COVID-19.

Another article with data from China, published this month in The Lancet Oncology, reports a small group of 18 cancer patients affected by COVID-19. This study includes individuals with active disease and others with disease remission in surveillance. They were older and more likely to have a history of smoking and showed a higher risk of severe events than non-cancer patients. Those who recently underwent chemotherapy or surgery were at higher risk.

However the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus will experience mild to moderate symptoms and their treatment will be to remain at home, treating their symptoms the way they would treat a severe cold or the flu. A Chinese article, which analyses 10 published studies of COVID-19, reports that the main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever (88.5%), cough (68.6%), myalgia or fatigue (35.8%), sputum (28.2%) and breathlessness (21.9%). As the virus evolves with different mutations, the prevalence of these symptoms may change.

If you or one of your close relatives develop these symptoms, please refer to your local health authorities’ recommendations. Whenever possible, for further information try to contact your oncologist. To know more, read our following article on frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and cancer.



JAMA. 2019 Mar 5;321(9):910.

JAMA. 2020 Feb 24.

Lancet Oncol. 2020 Mar;21(3):335-337.