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Analyzing Breast and Colon Cancer Care in Rural New England

Vermont Cancer Registry, New Hampshire State Cancer Registry, and Maine Cancer Registry

Central cancer registry records from diagnosis years 2003 to 2004 in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont were aggregated. Patient residence was classified into three tiers (small rural, large rural, and urban) using Rural-Urban Commuting Area classification. A team from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont evaluated quality of care for breast and colon cancers in these predominantly rural states.

Among 6,134 women diagnosed with breast cancer, there were significant differences between rural and urban residents in age (P < .001), stage (P < .001), and tumor size (P = .006). Use of breast-conserving surgery was similar, but sentinel lymph node (SLN) dissection was more common in urban (44.1%) than in large rural (39.9%) and small rural (37.6%) areas. Patients who underwent SLN dissection were more likely to receive radiation therapy after lumpectomy than patients who underwent regional lymph node dissection without SLN (85.9% vs. 75.5%). However, there was no statistically significant association between the rates of post-lumpectomy radiation therapy by residence.

Among 2,848 patients with colon cancer, patient characteristics in rural and urban areas were similar, but there were differences in their subsequent surgical treatment (P < .001) and lymph node sampling (P = .079). Adjuvant chemotherapy for patients with stage III colon cancer was less frequent in rural (57.3%) than in urban areas (64.7%; P < .001).

Central cancer registry data, aggregated among three states, identified differences between rural and urban areas in care for patients with breast and colon cancers. To our knowledge, this is the first time residential category, cancer stage, and treatment data have been analyzed for multiple states using population-based data.

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