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  • Weddings, travel plans,

  • music festivals, graduations,

  • dental cleanings,

  • pretty much everything has gotten put on hold

  • during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • That includes health care

  • stuff like preventative medical care has gotten pushed to the back seat

  • as the virus has taken the wheel.

  • So what have these delays

  • meant for overall health,

  • especially when it comes to something

  • like cancer?

  • For some context,

  • my partner at the time was diagnosed

  • with lymphoma in early 2019.

  • This is pre-pandemic.

  • We spent about six months

  • basically living in the hospital,

  • and after that experience, all I could think about during

  • the pandemic was how much harder

  • that all would have been if we'd had to go through it

  • during COVID-19,

  • especially at the beginning,

  • at the point of diagnosis. Because it was difficult enough

  • to get seen by a doctor in pre-pandemic times.

  • But regular checkups and cancer screenings

  • drastically dipped during the early months of the pandemic,

  • as health care systems contended with the virus

  • and folks wanted to avoid high

  • risk locations like hospitals.

  • -What oncologists

  • worry about is that these delays in screening

  • will cause more patients

  • to be diagnosed at later stages,

  • where treatment is more difficult

  • and complicated and potentially

  • takes more away from a patient's quality of life.

  • -And the area of

  • sharpest decline in cancer screenings

  • was for women from underserved

  • communities where COVID-19 already

  • has an outsized impact.

  • And that's on top of an existing information gap

  • that has always been there.

  • Like, many people don't actually know how often

  • they should be screened for things like breast and cervical cancer.

  • And this knowledge is even less

  • common in communities of color.

  • And that's really concerning.

  • -One of the reasons that mortality from cancer

  • has been declining in the United States is because we've been

  • continuously improving some of our cancer screenings.

  • The best example of this is in cervical cancer.

  • Once widespread pap smear screening

  • became available in the United States,

  • cervical cancer went from being one of the leading

  • causes of death in women

  • to a relatively rare disease.

  • Recent studies

  • show that some cancer screenings,

  • but not all and not in all places,

  • have bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. And catching any cancer

  • early is absolutely essential to ensure a better outcome for the patient.

  • But it's especially true in the time of COVID.

  • And especially true

  • for those who have a blood cancer like leukemia or lymphoma.

  • And this is because those diseases

  • actually don't have screening options like a mammogram

  • for breast cancer or a pap smear for cervical cancer.

  • You just have to go to the doctor

  • if something doesn't feel right.

  • Plus, these cancers

  • impact the white blood cells.

  • -The white blood cells fight

  • all pathogens, bacteria, funguses, viruses,

  • anything that can attack your body and make you sick.

  • When you are a patient with leukemia or lymphoma,

  • both the disease itself

  • and the treatment can impact

  • the number and function of those white blood cells.

  • -Recent research

  • has shown that those with blood cancer in particular,

  • are at much higher risk of longer and more severe COVID-19

  • illness than people with a kind of cancer

  • that presents with solid tumors.

  • -The B lymphocytes are the exact cells

  • that are able to produce the proteins

  • we call the antibodies in response to infection.

  • So patients who either the malignancy itself

  • involves those cells

  • or the treatment for the malignancy knocks down those cells

  • are less able to make the antibodies

  • both to primary infection

  • or when they get an immunization.

  • -So what does this mean for blood cancer patients

  • when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Luckily, researchers have been studying exactly this.

  • Several studies have found that even

  • in immunosuppressed cancer patients

  • an mRNA vaccine can produce

  • at least some antibody response, just not one

  • as strong as we'd see in someone with a healthy immune system.

  • In a study from The Leukemia

  • and Lymphoma Society of more than 1,400 blood cancer patients,

  • there were some who,

  • depending on their cancer type,

  • were less likely to produce antibodies

  • in response to a full mRNA vaccine course.

  • But this research has been extended to look at a small number

  • of those patients who went on to get a booster shot.

  • And there's good news here.

  • -We were able to show

  • that almost half

  • of these patients, albeit small numbers

  • who were seronegative, or didn't make the antibodies

  • before, half of them

  • got a boost and were able to make antibodies from a third shot.

  • -But at this already complex intersection

  • of cancer care and COVID immunization,

  • health inequalities across

  • class, race and ethnicity,

  • and gender need to be taken into consideration too.

  • Like who has access to cancer care,

  • who has access to the vaccine,

  • who is able to get their cancer

  • diagnosed and treated in time?

  • And how does social identity play a role in all of this?

  • -Women tend to have a different immune system than men.

  • There are different receptors

  • that are targeted by various

  • immuno-oncology agents,

  • which are newer ways of treating cancer.

  • These drugs have been very, very successful

  • in treating certain malignancies.

  • But because women have an overall stronger

  • immune system than men,

  • men get more of an advantage

  • from these drugs than women do.

  • And so we are still trying to understand

  • all these differences between the immune systems of men and women

  • and how they interact in cancer

  • care to lead to differences in outcomes.

  • -So like always, we need more research.

  • And the National Cancer Institute

  • is conducting a study of 2,000

  • cancer patients who have contracted COVID-19

  • and is following them over the course

  • of two years to monitor their COVID immunity

  • during their cancer treatment and recovery.

  • Another study will be looking

  • at how COVID-19 susceptibility and immunity changes

  • in cancer patients, depending on the stage of their disease.

  • And work like this is how the medical community is able

  • to give solid, science-backed

  • advice to cancer patients on how to navigate things

  • like the COVID-19 pandemic

  • and vaccination as safely as possible.

  • There's so much noise out there about what's healthy

  • and what's not, what you should do and what you shouldn't,

  • which makes it all the more essential and empowering

  • to have access to solid,

  • credible information.

  • -And I really, really believe

  • that clinical trials are the path forward

  • for helping keep cancer patients safe.

  • I really want to thank

  • the now almost 12,000 patients

  • who agreed to be part of this registry

  • because we could not have done this

  • without patients saying,

  • 'I want to help myself, but I want to help other people.'

  • If you are someone you know is looking for support when dealing with

  • blood cancer, then check out The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

  • They provide patients with free

  • one-on-one support and opportunities to speak

  • with highly trained oncology professionals.

  • So to learn more about them,

  • check out the resources we've left in the description below.

  • Thank you all so much for

  • watching Seeker's Body Language.

  • If you have another topic like this you want us to cover in this series,

  • then let us know in the comments and I'll see you next time.

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The Biggest Questions Around COVID-19 Vaccines & Cancer

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    Summer posted on 2022/01/10
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