Men are more susceptible to COVID-19. However, those who have cancer are even more vulnerable as they face a 1.8-fold increased risk of COVID-19 infection compared to the whole male population. Men with cancer also develop more severe symptoms and are harder to treat. However, a new study at the Università della Svizzera Italiana and ETH Zurich showed that one cancer treatment might be protecting against COVID-19.
You always hear about people belonging to a risk group of COVID-19. It is older people and those with chronic conditions. Cancer patients are also more susceptible to this viral disease, because their condition and anti-cancer treatment negatively affects their immune system. However, scientists at the Università della Svizzera Italiana conducted a study with 4500 men and found that those who were treated for prostate cancer with androgen-deprivation therapies were less likely to develop COVID-19. Furthermore, if they were infected, their symptoms were less severe.
In fact, there were over 5200 men with prostate cancer on ADT in the Veneto region. Only a few of them contracted COVID-19 and none of them died. This is quite surprising, given that these men were at a major risk group. Scientists think that this phenomenon occurred because, as previous studies have shown, TMPRSS2 protein helps the SARS-CoV-2 virus to infect human cells. Meanwhile ADT reduces the levels of TMPRSS2. And this gave scientists an idea.
Scientists say that even men who do not have prostate cancer, but belong to a high risk group otherwise, could take ADT for a limited amount of time to reduce the risk of infection. Even those who are already sick could take these drugs to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Andrea Alimonti, leader of the study, said: “I hope that our findings inspire other clinicians to carry out clinical trials using transient ADT in men infected with COVID-19, in addition to other experimental therapies”.
However, more studies are needed to determine whether ADT is actually the reason why these people face a lower COVID-19 risk. Another explanation – they simply maintain a better social distance, because they know that their immune systems are compromised. In fact, we don’t even know for sure if cancer patients are at a higher risk of COVID-19. Higher prevalence of this disease among cancer patients could be just an illusion, caused by testing. Cancer patients could be tested more than those without cancer.
Either way, ADT is worth exploring. Maybe it could be used in some cases to prevent the most severe cases of COVID-19. Some more testing is needed, but this therapy has a huge potential.
Source: ETH Zurich