How to Counsel Genitourinary Cancer Patients About COVID-19 Vaccine Safety With Hyma Polimera, MD

At the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Genitourinary Cancers Symposium, Dr. Hyma Polimera, a Hematology/Oncology Fellow at Penn State Cancer Institute, presented her research regarding COVID-19 vaccine behaviors and outcomes among patients with genitourinary cancers. In this follow-up interview, she explains the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination among this population and shares advice for oncologists on how to counsel their patients with genitourinary cancers regarding vaccine safety.  

Oncology Data Advisor: Welcome to Oncology Data Advisor. Today, I am joined by Dr. Hyma Polimera, who recently presented a study at the ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium. Dr. Polimera, thanks so much for joining today. To start off, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research focus is on?

Hyma Polimera, MD: Sure, I am Dr. Hyma Polimera. I am a second-year Hematology/Oncology Fellow at Penn State Cancer Institute in Pennsylvania. We are doing a research study on COVID-19 vaccine behavior and outcomes in cancer patients because it is extremely important to ensure vaccination in these patients.

Oncology Data Advisor: That’s awesome, it’s great to have you here. So, by way of background, why did you decide to focus on COVID-19 vaccination behaviors and outcomes in patients with genitourinary (GU) cancers compared with other cancer types?

Dr. Polimera: Definitely, that is an excellent question. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted health care at several levels, especially for patients with comorbid conditions like old age, obesity, and cancer. These are very well-studied high-risk factors for developing severe COVID-19 disease. Most of these patients were excluded from the clinical trials which evaluated the safety and efficacy of the three FDA-approved vaccines that we have today.

We wanted to study the safety and efficacy of these vaccines in cancer patients, especially GU cancer patients. The GU cancers we studied included prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and kidney cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and even bladder cancer and kidney cancer fall under the top 10 cancers in men. The average age of these patients is 65 to 75 years. So, this is an older population, and they have another risk factor, which is cancer. We wanted to study how these patients do with these vaccines.

Oncology Data Advisor: What were the results that your study found?

Dr. Polimera: We have about 170 patients in our study, and it is a two-piece study. First, we collected some data from the patient charts, including what kind of cancer they had and what treatments they were receiving. The other piece was doing telephone interviews. We ask the patients’ perspectives on the COVID vaccine and whether they had received the vaccine. If they had received it, we asked why they decided to receive it and what side effects they had faced. If they hadn’t received it, we asked why they decided not to. We also checked whether they had any progression of the disease during COVID-19 vaccination, whether the vaccine affected their outcome, and whether it delayed the cancer treatment.

Our study found that we had 21 patients with GU cancers out of the 170 patients, and 19 out of 21 patients received vaccine. Mostly, they had very minor side effects like inflammation at the injection site, rash swelling, muscle aches, body aches, or headache, but none of them reported any serious adverse effects. More importantly, among the patients who received the vaccine, it did not affect their treatment status, and none of them reported that the vaccine caused any negative outcome on their cancer status.

Oncology Data Advisor: In light of these results, how do you recommend that oncologists can counsel their patients with GU cancers about COVID-19 vaccination?

Dr. Polimera: Yes, these kinds of studies are extremely important for the practicing oncologist. When we have safety data from these studies, then oncologists can advise their patients and say, “Okay, the COVID-19 disease is bad, but not the vaccines, so you can safely take it.” They can also reference these kinds of studies when telling patients that the vaccines are safe. This is especially important for cancer patients because they are prone to infections. Having the COVID-19 vaccine helps prevent them from getting severe disease, so that do not require hospitalizations and there is a high chance that they can recover from the disease quickly.

Oncology Data Advisor: That’s such valuable information for oncologists to know.

Dr. Polimera: Definitely, and we are also reporting on the vaccine safety in all cancer patients. We also did a subset analysis in breast cancer patients because breast cancer is more frequent in females. We submitted these abstracts to the main ASCO meeting in June 2023, so stay tuned for the upcoming results.

Oncology Data Advisor: Awesome, and we’d love to talk to you once the main ASCO rolls around as well about that research.

Dr. Polimera: Yes, definitely.

Oncology Data Advisor: To finish up, anything else you’d like to share about this?

Dr. Polimera: I would like to tell patients that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, so take it—please take it.

Oncology Data Advisor: This is such an interesting study, thank you so much again for your time and for explaining all of it.

About Dr. Polimera

Hyma Polimera, MD, is a second-year Hematology/Oncology Fellow at Penn State Cancer Institute in Pennsylvania. Previously, she was an Associate Professor in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine and Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Polimera has authored more than 40 publications in peer-reviewed journals.

For More Information

Polimera HV, Pomerantz LD, Guare E, et al (2023). COVID-19 vaccination behavior and outcomes in patients with genitourinary cancer in comparison with other cancer types. J Clin Oncol (ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium Abstracts), 41(suppl_6). Abstract 134. DOI:10.1200/JCO.2023.41.6_suppl.134

Transcript edited for clarity. Any views expressed above are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Oncology Data Advisor. 

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