New research suggests that, during the first 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a 4% increase in deaths among cancer patients in the United States.

Deaths in patients with COVID-19 and cancer made up 81% of the excess deaths, researchers found. These findings were published in Cancer Medicine.

For this study, the researchers used multiple-cause-of-death data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database. Patients who had cancer listed on their death certificates during 2018-2021 and those who had COVID-19 and cancer listed on their death certificates during 2020-2021 were included.

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There were 1,266,958 deaths in patients with cancer during the first 2 years of the pandemic, which was an increase of 50,264 deaths (4.1%) from the pre-pandemic period. There were 40,702 deaths in patients who had COVID-19 and cancer, which made up 81.0% of the excess deaths.

The age-adjusted mortality rate (AAMR) in patients with COVID-19 and cancer was 41.7 per 1,000,000 population in 2020 and 56.7 per 1,000,000 population in 2021, which was an increase of 36%.

When the researchers looked at all deaths, they found the increase in AAMR from 2020 to 2021 was higher for women (40.6%) than for men (32.2%), although the total number of deaths was higher for men in both 2020 and 2021.

Patients aged 25-34 years had the largest increase in AAMR from 2020 to 2021, at 200%. In comparison, the increase was 40.0% for patients who were 35-44 years, 73.3% for the 45-54 age group, 57.7% for the 55-64 age group, 42.1% for the 65-74 age group, 33.3% for the 75-84 age group, and 14.6% for patients 85 years and older.

Non-Hispanic White patients had the largest percentage increase in AAMR from 2020 to 2021, at 46.6%. The AAMR also increased for non-Hispanic Asian patients (11.4%), non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native patients (5.7%), and non-Hispanic Black patients (4.0%). The AAMR decreased for Hispanic patients (-0.2%) and non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander patients (-19.1%).

The researchers noted that these results are limited by the fact that the study included only multiple-cause-of-death data, meaning “it may be difficult to ascertain whether the underlying cause of death is from COVID-19, cancer, or another underlying condition that worsened the state of either of the two medical conditions.” In addition, the study did not incorporate information on types or stages of cancer.


Jambunathan B, Lang J, Mays M, Ekwenna O. Quantifying mortality burden in patients with cancer due to COVID-19 in the US: A national cross-sectional analysis. Cancer Med. Published online August 3, 2023. doi:10.1002/cam4.6364

This article originally appeared on Cancer Therapy Advisor