Short Communication

Systematic SARS-CoV-2-testing for asymptomatic cancer patients treated at a public healthcare tertiary centre in Brazil

26 Jul 2021
Aline F Fares, Luiza A Fadul, Barbara Benetton, Mauricio L Nogueira, Marcia Lanza, Daniel V Araujo

Background: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has had enormous consequences in Brazil and worldwide. Patients with cancer affected by COVID-19 are at a higher risk of developing complications and worse outcomes compared to the non-cancer population, particularly the ones on active systemic treatment. Considering the COVID-19’s high transmissibility in asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic patients, we sought to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in patients with solid cancers receiving systemic therapy in a Brazilian public health hospital. Furthermore, we studied whether socio-economic status was associated with prevalence.

Methods: Consecutive asymptomatic patients undergoing treatment for solid tumours at the chemotherapy and infusion centre of Hospital de Base were enrolled. Patients were prospectively tested for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 RNA real-time polymerase chain reaction with nasal and oropharyngeal swabs immediately prior to treatment. A socio-economic survey was carried out prior to testing. Demographic and socio-economic characteristics were summarised in means, medians and proportions.

Results: From 6 to 13 October 2020, 148 asymptomatic patients were identified. Of those, 41 were excluded, leaving 107 eligible patients. The mean age of the population was 58 years (SD ± 12.6); 54% were female and 90% were self-identified as White. The most common cancer sites were gastrointestinal tract (36%) and breast (25%). Most patients had a metastatic disease (59%) and were on anticancer treatment involving chemotherapy (95%). Regarding socio-economic status, 46% of our population had either primary school or illiterate as their highest educational level. In terms of monthly income, 92% had a personal income inferior to U$380 and 88% a household income inferior to U$585. Of the 107 patients tested, only 1 (0.9%) was positive for COVID-19. This is a 48-year-old man living in an urban area, with primary school educational level and a monthly personal income inferior to U$390.

Conclusion: Despite a high prevalence of COVID-19 in Brazil, our cohort demonstrated a low prevalence of COVID-19 (0.9%) amongst asymptomatic patients with cancer. We hypothesise that patients with cancer, independent of their socio-economic status, are aware of the increased risk of developing a severe disease and are adherent to physical distancing, masking and hygiene measures.

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