When the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak began, there were significant fears that the virus might be incredibly dangerous for children with cancer. Childhood cancer treatment regimens often include a host of cytotoxic chemotherapies that result in immunosurpression, leaving these patients especially vulnerable to viral infections.
“Influenza, parainfluenza, rhinoviruses, and other coronaviruses can lead to significant illness in children with cancer,” said Nickhill Bhakta, MD, MPH, assistant member, St. Jude Faculty at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. “We are worried that children with cancer could have bad outcomes with COVID-19 — at least worse than those observed among other children,” he added.
To analyze the impact of COVID-19 on children with cancer worldwide, Dr Bhakta and colleagues from both St. Jude and the International Society of Pediatric Oncology (SIOP) set up a registry1 to collect deidentified data from around the world.
Although data collection is ongoing, some limited information is already available online, featuring 623 cases in 35 countries at the time of publishing this piece. Two of the main goals of the registry are to quickly visualize and communicate the data to pediatric oncology providers around the world and to combine cases into an easy-to-access public dataset.
“When you have a rare disease like childhood cancer, if you have a rare secondary disease on top of this like COVID-19, you have limited case reports of small numbers of children that don’t advance our understanding in any definitive way,” said Dr Bhakta.
Any physician who submits data to the registry is asked to also input information 30 days and 60 days after the initial case diagnosis to ensure long-term follow-up of affected patients. “We are releasing the data in phases and we want to let the data mature. A 60-day follow-up is important to avoid biases,” said Dr Bhakta.
Another recently published a dataset from the UK Pediatric Oncology Coronavirus Monitoring Project looked at 46 children with cancer who also tested positive for COVID-19.2,3 Of these, there were no fatalities, and most children had very mild disease, with 80% of them being asymptomatic or having minor cold-like symptoms. The 2 children who required intensive care had confounding issues, and 1 child required oxygen.