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COVID-19 is unsparing in its spread and infects cancer patients just as it does others. What are the implications for the course of the cancer and the virus? Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin researchers are participating in a national study to find answers.

“This research follows 2,000 people with cancer who have also been diagnosed with COVID-19,” said Tina Yen, MD, MS, surgical oncologist, researcher, MCW faculty member and local principal investigator of the study. “They will be followed for two years. The study will gather medical information, lab results and medical images that are part of cancer and COVID-19 treatment, creating a large bank of information that can be used in future research.”

The Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network is conducting the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), as a member of the National Clinical Trials Network. On the strength of its ability to recruit high numbers of trial participants and its scientific leadership in the design of clinical trials, MCW is an NCI Lead Academic Participating Site, an honor awarded to only 32 top U.S. academic cancer centers.

“The study goals are to determine how patients are doing from a COVID-19 standpoint, how their cancer treatment may be affected by COVID-19, and how the virus may affect cancer-related outcomes and quality of life over the short and long term,” Dr. Yen said.

Cancer patients are at higher risk for COVID-19 and more severe illness because they tend to be older, and cancer or its treatment can suppress the immune system.

“We must better understand the interaction between cancer and COVID-19 and the long term outcomes,” Dr. Yen said. “For example, can we determine risk factors that cause more serious illness from COVID-19 in cancer patients? Can we identify markers that indicate which cancer patients need more aggressive treatment or preventive measures?”

To date, the Cancer Network has accrued the largest number of patients for this trial in the nation. People enrolled in the COVID and cancer study must be receiving care within the Froedtert & MCW health network, with at least part of their cancer treatment at the Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital.

“Taking into account that these people are not only going through cancer treatment but also living with a diagnosis of COVID-19, it is truly remarkable that we’ve had so many agree to participate,” Dr. Yen said. “The information they provide will help us guide future care for people with cancer who acquire COVID-19.”

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