Leukemia after COVID-19: is there a link?
More than 500 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the end of 2019. Most people who develop COVID-19 have mild illness, but there is compelling evidence that people with certain health conditions like leukemia are at high risk of serious illness or death.
A 2021 study presented at the 63rd annual meeting and exposition of the American Society of Hematology found that people with blood cancer have a significantly higher 17% chance of dying from COVID-19. than the general population.
It’s less clear whether COVID-19 increases your risk of developing leukemia or other blood cancers. Some researchers believe it is plausible that COVID-19, in combination with other factors, may contribute to the development of cancer. At present, the link remains theoretical.
Read on to learn more about how COVID-19 could, in theory, contribute to the development of leukemia.
Certain types of blood cancer have been linked to infections. It’s unclear whether COVID-19 contributes to the development of leukemia, but scientists have found theoretical links.
Link COVID-19 and cancer
The development of cancer is usually a consequence of multiple factors that lead to genetic mutations in cancer cells. It is plausible that COVID-19 could predispose your body to cancer or accelerate cancer progression.
Most people with COVID-19 recover by
Chronic inflammation can cause
The immune response in people with COVID-19 is orchestrated by
- interleukin 1 (IL-1) family
- interleukin 6 (IL-6)
- interleukin 8 (IL-8)
- tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α)
COVID-19 is also associated with other processes known to lead to cancer formation, such as:
- the activation of the
- MAPK pathway activation
- oxidative stress due to angiotensin-2 converting enzyme depletion
COVID-19 and leukemia
A few case studies have reported people admitted to hospital with leukemia shortly after developing COVID-19. However, it is unclear if COVID-19 played a role or what role it played. Leukemia may have developed by coincidence.
The authors of a 2022 study present a theoretical framework for how COVID-19 might influence the development of blood cancers. According to the researchers, an abnormal immune response to viral infections can indirectly trigger genetic mutations that promote leukemia.
The virus that causes COVID-19 may also interact significantly with the renin-angiotensin system, which is thought to play a role in the development of cancerous blood cells.
In a case study
Other viruses and blood cancers
Certain other types of viral infections have been linked to the development of leukemia.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer, and its rates are increasing.
Having a human type 1 infection with the adult T-cell leukemia virus is linked to the development of T-cell leukemia. This virus is mainly transmitted through bodily fluids. the
Certain types of infections have been linked to the development of another type of blood cancer called lymphoma. They include:
The FDA approved the drug
As of this writing, there is no evidence that remdesivir can cause leukemia.
In a 2021 study, a 6-year-old child with newly diagnosed ALL and COVID-19 was treated with remdesivir and convalescent plasma therapy before starting leukemia treatment.
No adverse events were linked to the therapy, and the researchers concluded that this treatment could be considered in people with cancer to hasten the resolution of the viral infection and to start cancer treatment earlier.
Some researchers have raised concerns that the antiviral drug molnupiravir, which received emergency use authorization from the FDA on
Does a COVID-19 infection put you at risk for other blood cancers?
The development of blood cancer is complex. Researchers continue to examine whether COVID-19 infection can contribute to the development of leukemia or any other blood cancer. Some researchers have posited a theoretical link, but more research is needed.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause leukemia?
Is the COVID-19 vaccine effective for people with blood cancer?
About 25% of blood cancer patients do not produce detectable antibodies after vaccination, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). However, the
LLS experts say vaccination should be combined with other preventive precautions for better protection.
Are people with blood cancer more likely to develop a severe form of COVID-19?
People with cancer appear to be at higher risk for severe COVID-19. According to
Researchers continue to examine the link between leukemia and COVID-19. Strong evidence suggests that people with leukemia are at increased risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19.
Some researchers have speculated that COVID-19 may contribute to the formation of leukemia, but for now the link remains theoretical. Much more research is needed to understand the link.