Cancer Patient's Tumors Shrink After Having Severe COVID, Doctors Find

A U.K. cancer patient saw his disease recede after he caught a severe case of COVID, doctors have said.

The 61-year-old man had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps the body fight infections with white blood cells.

Images included in the report show scans in which numerous cancer-affected areas can be seen in the patient.

Soon after he was diagnosed, the man was admitted to hospital with breathlessness, where he was also diagnosed with COVID.

He was treated for 11 days and then allowed to return home and recover. Doctors also said no immunochemotherapy was given to him.

Four months later, a follow-up scan to check on the patient's cancer condition revealed there had been a widespread reduction in lymphadenopathy—or swollen lymph nodes.

A report on the case was published in the British Journal of Haematology in January by Sarah Challenor and David Tucker at the Royal College Hospital in Cornwall, U.K.

The report includes before-and-after pictures which show a number of cancer-affected areas highlighted in the "before" images, but images taken after COVID infection showed these highlighted areas had either disappeared completely or had significantly dimmed.

The images can be seen in a PDF of the report here.

The authors think the COVID infection caused the patient's immune system to attack the cancer.

The report reads: "We hypothesize that the SARS‐CoV‐2 infection triggered an anti‐tumor immune response, as has been described with other infections in the context of high‐grade non‐Hodgkin lymphoma."

The case was also referenced by another article in March, published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer, which stated the relationship between the immune system and cancer with COVID is complex.

Martin Ledwick, head cancer information nurse at Cancer Research U.K., said in a statement to reporters: "At this stage it's too early to draw any conclusions from these cases—it's quite possibly a coincidence.

"Anyone undergoing cancer treatment should continue to follow the advice of their doctors, as well as protecting themselves from catching COVID-19, and we encourage all who can to take up the vaccine."

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told WalesOnline: "The message for anyone with cancer is that deliberately exposing yourself to COVID-19 in the hope it will heal you is much more likely to lead to your untimely demise than to a cure.

"Tumors often evade the immune system and, in this case, COVID infection seems to have kick-started the immune system very effectively."

According to Cancer Research UK, around 75 percent of people survive Hodgkin lymphoma in England for 10 years or more after they are diagnosed, though this depends on factors such as the cancer stage and patient fitness.

Doctors looking at scans
A stock image shows a couple of doctors looking at scans. The 61-year-old patient's case was described by doctors in a report. Motortion/iStock