Conference Coverage

For leukemias, COVID-19 death risks tied to poor prognoses, ICU deferrals



Factors associated with the worst COVID-19-related outcomes for patients with acute leukemias and myelodysplastic syndromes include neutropenia, pre-COVID-19 prognosis, and deferral of ICU care, results of an American Society of Hematology (ASH) COVID-19 registry study suggest.

Rates of severe COVID-19 were significantly higher among patients who had active disease or neutropenia at the time of their COVID-19 diagnosis. Mortality related to COVID-19 was linked to neutropenia, primary disease prognosis of less than 6 months, and deferral of recommended ICU care, study results show.

By contrast, mortality was not associated with active primary disease or its treatment, according to researcher Pinkal Desai, MD, MPH.

Taken together, these findings provide preliminary evidence to support the use of aggressive supportive treatment of COVID-19 in patients with acute leukemias and myelodysplastic syndromes, said Dr. Desai, a hematologist-oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York.

“If desired by patients, aggressive support for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is appropriate, regardless of remission status, given the results of our study,” Dr. Desai said in a press conference during the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

In non-cancer patient populations, advanced age and cytopenias have been associated with mortality related to COVID-19, Dr. Desai said. Likewise, patients with acute leukemias and myelodysplastic syndrome are generally older and have disease- or treatment-related cytopenias, which might affect the severity of and mortality from COVID-19, she added.

With that concern in mind, Dr. Desai and co-investigators looked at predictors of severe COVID-19 disease and death among patients in the ASH Research Collaborative (ASH RC) COVID-19 Registry for Hematology.

This registry was started in the early days of the pandemic to provide real-time observational COVID-19 data to clinicians, according to an ASH news release.

The analysis by Dr. Desai and co-authors included 257 patients with COVID-19 as determined by their physician, including 135 with a primary diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia, 82 with acute lymphocytic leukemia, and 40 with myelodysplastic syndromes. Sixty percent of the patients were hospitalized due to COVID-19.

At the time of COVID-19 diagnosis, 46% of patients were in remission, and 44% had active disease, according to the report.

Both neutropenia and active disease status at COVID-19 diagnosis were linked to severe COVID-19, defined as ICU admission due to a COVID-19-related reason, according to results of multivariable analysis. Among patients with severe COVID-19, 67% had active disease, meaning just 33% were in remission, Dr. Desai noted.

In multivariable analysis, two factors were significantly associated with mortality, she added: having an estimated pre-COVID-19 prognosis from the primary disease of less than 6 months, and deferral of ICU care when it was recommended to the patient.

Mortality was 21% overall, higher than would be expected in a non-cancer population, Dr. Desai said. For patients with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, the mortality rate was 34% and for those patients who did go to the ICU, the mortality rate was 68%.

By contrast, there was no significant association between mortality and active disease as compared to disease in remission, Dr. Desai noted in her presentation. Likewise, mortality was not associated with active treatment at the time of COVID-19 diagnosis as compared to no treatment.

Gwen Nichols, MD, chief medical officer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Dr. Gwen Nichols

Gwen Nichols, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, New York, said those are reassuring data for patients with acute leukemias and myelodysplastic syndromes and their healthcare providers.

“From our point of view, it helps us say, ‘do not stop your treatment because of worries about COVID-19—it’s more important that you treat your cancer,” Dr. Nichols said in an interview. “We now know we can help people through COVID-19, and I think this is just really important data to back that up,” she added.

Dr. Desai provided disclosures related to Agios, Kura Oncology, and Bristol Myers Squibb (consultancy), and to Janssen R&D and Astex (research funding).

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