Dying from cancer with COVID-19: age, sex, socio-economic status, and comorbidities

Acta Oncol. 2021 Aug;60(8):1019-1024. doi: 10.1080/0284186X.2021.1934536. Epub 2021 Jun 8.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused excess deaths (all causes) and has disproportionately affected the elderly with certain characteristics.

Objectives: To study how COVID-19 affected cancer deaths regarding age, sex, socio-economic status, comorbidities, and access to palliative care. An additional objective was to study changes in place of care and death.

Material and methods: A descriptive, retrospective study of all cancer patients who died during March-May 2020 in the Stockholm region, n = 1467 of which 278 died with a COVID-19 diagnosis, compared with deaths in 2016-2019. The Stockholm Regional Council's central data warehouse was used. T-tests, 95% CI, Wilcoxon and chi-squared tests were used for comparisons.

Results: There were excess cancer deaths compared with 2016-2019 (p < 0.001) and patients dying with a COVID-19 diagnosis were older (79.7 vs. 75.9 years, p < 0.0001), more often male (67% vs. 55%, p < 0.0001), and had more comorbidities (Charlson Comorbidity Index 1.6 vs. 1.1, p < 0.0001). Patients with COVID-19 more seldom had access to palliative care (34% vs. 59%, p = 0.008), had more changes in place of care during the last two weeks of life (p < 0.0001) and died more often in acute hospitals (34% vs. 14%, p < 0.0001). For the subgroup with access to palliative care, the hospital deaths for individuals with and without a COVID-19 diagnosis were 11% and 4%, respectively (p = 0.008).

Conclusion: Cancer patients dying with a COVID-19 diagnosis were older, more often male, and had more comorbidities. A COVID-19 diagnosis negatively affected the probability of being admitted to specialized palliative care and increased the likelihood of dying in an acute hospital.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cancer; age; mortality; palliative care services.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19*
  • Comorbidity
  • Economic Status
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2