COVID-19 Linked to High Hospitalization and Mortality in Unvaccinated Mesothelioma Patients

COVID-19 is serious in mesothelioma patients, but vaccination may help.

A recent study investigated the effects of COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients. The study found high rates of hospitalization and mortality in pleural mesothelioma patients. Dr. Susana Cedrés presented the study at the 2021 World Conference on Lung Cancer.

About 20% of the participants contracted COVID-19 during the study. Of COVID-19-infected study patients, 85% required hospitalization. The study found 57% of mesothelioma patients who contracted COVID-19 died from the infection.

Since these numbers may cause alarm, we wanted to understand the role vaccination played in the study, if any. Thus, we contacted the study author, Dr. Cedrés. She provided some details mesothelioma patients may find comforting.

According to Dr. Cedrés, the study occurred at a hospital in Spain prior to COVID-19 vaccines becoming widely available. The hospital began vaccinating pleural mesothelioma patients in March. From March to September, no pleural mesothelioma patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 at the study hospital.

Some Mesothelioma Patients Did Not Have Symptoms When Diagnosed With COVID-19

In this study, doctors analyzed the health records of pleural mesothelioma patients. All study patients visited Vall d´Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona between March 2020 and March 2021. During this period, 38 pleural mesothelioma patients visited the hospital and were included in the study.

Seven of those pleural mesothelioma patients contracted COVID-19. All seven patients had the epithelioid cell type.

Note: COVID-19 vaccines were not widely available in Spain at the time of this study. None of the study patients were vaccinated when they developed COVID-19.

Two of the patients were undergoing active mesothelioma treatment. One was receiving chemotherapy, and the other was undergoing radiation treatment.

Similar to COVID-19 cases in general, some patients did not experience symptoms despite being infected. Four of the patients were experiencing symptoms at the time of COVID-19 diagnosis, but three were not. Every symptomatic patient had a fever and difficulty breathing.

This data highlights one of the difficulties in recognizing COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients. Many pleural mesothelioma patients experience difficulty breathing (dyspnea) due to their cancer. However, this symptom may also be caused by COVID-19.

Patients who suspect they have COVID-19 or mesothelioma symptoms should speak with a doctor. The doctor can order tests capable of recognizing COVID-19 or assisting in a mesothelioma diagnosis.

COVID-19 in Mesothelioma Study Details

General Information

  • Location: Vall d´Hebron University Hospital, Barcelona
  • Time Period: March 2020 – March 2021
  • Participants: 38 pleural mesothelioma patients

COVID-19 Infected Pleural Mesothelioma Patient Information

  • Participants Infected With COVID-19: 7 pleural mesothelioma patients
  • Median Age: 62 years
  • Gender: 4 male, 3 female
  • Smoking Status: 4 non-smokers, 3 former smokers
  • Treatment Status: 2 patients in active treatment, 5 patients not in active treatment

Doctors Found High Hospitalization and Complication Rates in Unvaccinated COVID-19 Patients With Mesothelioma

Six of the seven study patients who contracted COVID-19 required hospitalization. This means nearly 86% of mesothelioma patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized. Only about 19% of unvaccinated people in the general population require hospitalization in the U.S.

Thus, mesothelioma patients had more than four times the average risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19. However, keep in mind that none of the study participants had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Similarly, researchers found high complication rates in patients with COVID-19 and pleural mesothelioma. COVID-19 mesothelioma patients experienced the following complications:

  • Developing pneumonia in both lungs: 57%
  • Having low white blood cell counts (lymphopenia): 100%
  • Requiring supplemental oxygen: 100%

Four of the seven COVID-19 mesothelioma patients died due to COVID-19. In other words, COVID-19 had a 57% mortality rate in unvaccinated pleural mesothelioma patients.

After the study closed, vaccines became available to mesothelioma patients in Spain. According to Dr. Cedrés, the vaccine substantially changed the rate of COVID-19 infection in mesothelioma patients.

Researcher Diagnosed Zero COVID-19 Cases in Vaccinated Mesothelioma Patients

In a personal email communication, Dr. Cedrés shared her experiences after the study closed. In Spain, health care providers began vaccinating mesothelioma patients in March 2021. According to Dr. Cedrés, none of the pleural mesothelioma patients at her hospital have contracted COVID-19 since then.

This information agrees with earlier data regarding COVID-19 vaccination in cancer patients. In the earlier study, patients undergoing active cancer treatment received COVID-19 vaccines. Researchers found evidence of protection against the virus in 90% of vaccinated cancer patients.

Any mesothelioma patients concerned about COVID-19 should discuss vaccination with their oncology team. The team can help patients determine the best course of action for their circumstances.

After vaccination, experts still recommend cancer patients observe COVID-19 precautions. These precautions include social distancing and wearing masks.

Note: The Meso Foundation recommends COVID-19 vaccination for mesothelioma patients undergoing immunotherapy treatment.