Lung Cancer in Nonelderly Patients: Facility and Patient Characteristics Associated With Not Receiving Treatment

Background: In elderly patients with lung cancer, race/ethnicity is associated with not receiving treatment; however, little attention has been given to nonelderly patients (aged ≤65 years) with a range of disease stages and histologies. Nonelderly patients with lung cancer have superior survival at NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers (CCCs), although the reasons remain unknown. Patients and Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted in 9,877 patients newly diagnosed with small cell or non–small cell lung cancer (all stages) between ages 22 and 65 years and reported to the Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance Program registry between 1998 and 2008. Multivariable logistic regression examined factors associated with nontreatment. Results: In multivariable analysis, race/ethnicity was associated with not receiving cancer treatment (black: odds ratio [OR], 1.22; P=.004; Hispanic: OR, 1.17; P=.04), adjusting for patient age, sex, disease stage, histology, diagnosis year, distance to treatment facility, type of facility (CCC vs non-CCC), and insurance status. With inclusion of socioeconomic status (SES) in the model, the effect of race/ethnicity was no longer significant (black: OR, 1.02; P=.80; Hispanic: OR, 1.00; P=1.00). Factors independently associated with nontreatment included low SES (OR range, 1.37–2.15; P<.001), lack of private insurance (public: OR, 1.71; P<.001; uninsured: OR, 1.30; P<.001), and treatment facility (non-CCC: OR, 3.22; P<.001). Conclusions: In nonelderly patients with lung cancer, SES was associated with nontreatment, mitigating the effect of race/ethnicity. Patients were also at higher odds of nontreatment if they did not have private insurance or received cancer care at a non-CCC facility. These findings highlight the importance of understanding how both patient-level factors (eg, SES, insurance status) and facility-level factors (eg, treatment facility) serve as barriers to treatment of nonelderly patients with lung cancer.

Abstract

Background: In elderly patients with lung cancer, race/ethnicity is associated with not receiving treatment; however, little attention has been given to nonelderly patients (aged ≤65 years) with a range of disease stages and histologies. Nonelderly patients with lung cancer have superior survival at NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers (CCCs), although the reasons remain unknown. Patients and Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted in 9,877 patients newly diagnosed with small cell or non–small cell lung cancer (all stages) between ages 22 and 65 years and reported to the Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance Program registry between 1998 and 2008. Multivariable logistic regression examined factors associated with nontreatment. Results: In multivariable analysis, race/ethnicity was associated with not receiving cancer treatment (black: odds ratio [OR], 1.22; P=.004; Hispanic: OR, 1.17; P=.04), adjusting for patient age, sex, disease stage, histology, diagnosis year, distance to treatment facility, type of facility (CCC vs non-CCC), and insurance status. With inclusion of socioeconomic status (SES) in the model, the effect of race/ethnicity was no longer significant (black: OR, 1.02; P=.80; Hispanic: OR, 1.00; P=1.00). Factors independently associated with nontreatment included low SES (OR range, 1.37–2.15; P<.001), lack of private insurance (public: OR, 1.71; P<.001; uninsured: OR, 1.30; P<.001), and treatment facility (non-CCC: OR, 3.22; P<.001). Conclusions: In nonelderly patients with lung cancer, SES was associated with nontreatment, mitigating the effect of race/ethnicity. Patients were also at higher odds of nontreatment if they did not have private insurance or received cancer care at a non-CCC facility. These findings highlight the importance of understanding how both patient-level factors (eg, SES, insurance status) and facility-level factors (eg, treatment facility) serve as barriers to treatment of nonelderly patients with lung cancer.

Background

Race/Ethnicity has been implied to play a role in both outcomes1,2 and treatment decisions27 in lung cancer. Despite superior survival in patients who receive therapy and a breadth of diagnostic and treatment options, a large proportion of older and elderly patients with advanced lung cancer do not undergo treatment.812 To our knowledge, investigations of outcomes, nontreatment, and race/ethnicity in lung cancer11,1318 have included and focused on elderly populations (age >65 years) and have focused on either a single histology (non–small cell lung cancer [NSCLC]) or metastatic disease, all of which may play a role in the decision not to treat. Little attention has been given to understanding differences in treatment patterns for younger patients with lung cancer, whose comorbidity profiles and performance status differ from those that may impact treatment decisions in elderly patients. We have previously shown that in nonelderly patients (age ≤65 years) with lung cancer, after adjusting for clinical and sociodemographic factors (including socioeconomic status [SES] and distance to treatment facility), treatment at a facility other than an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) was associated with a 20% to 50% higher risk of mortality compared with treatment at a CCC19; however, the impact of CCC care on nontreatment remains unknown in this population. We also examined race/ethnicity and SES as barriers to care in nonelderly patients with lung cancer19; however, these factors have not been examined in the context of nontreatment. We sought to address these knowledge gaps in nonelderly patients (age 22–65 years) with all stages of lung cancer, examining the impact of race/ethnicity and care at CCCs on nonreceipt of lung cancer treatment.

Patients and Methods

Using data from the Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance Program (CSP), a population-based cohort was assembled. Patients were newly diagnosed with lung cancer (small cell lung cancer [SCLC] or NSCLC) between 1998 and 2008, when they were between ages 22 and 65 years. CSP collects data on all new cancer diagnoses among county residents and is a member of the California Cancer Registry and the NCI-funded SEER Program.20 Eligible patients were diagnosed with a first primary malignancy of lung cancer and treated within Los Angeles County. This project was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the State of California, City of Hope, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Nontreatment

CSP collects data regarding a patient’s first course of treatment for each tumor diagnosis. Treatment modalities included surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and other therapy, with each reported in a binary fashion (yes/no). Patients were categorized as not receiving any type of treatment (“no treatment”) if all of the 6 treatment modality indicators were “no.” If any treatment modality was “yes,” the patient was categorized as receiving treatment (“treatment”).

Sociodemographic Characteristics

The following sociodemographic variables were included in multivariable analyses: (1) age (continuous variable); (2) year of diagnosis (11 categories); (3) race/ethnicity (non-Hispanic white [NHW], black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander); (4) SES; and (5) distance to treatment facility. CSP calculated patients’ SES using 2000 census block–level education and median household income data and then ranked these into quintiles (low, middle-low, middle, middle-high, high).21 Using the SEER-based payer variable, insurance status was collapsed into 3 categories: private (private insurance, fee for service, insurance not otherwise specified [“no specifics”], managed care, HMO, preferred provider organization), public (Medicare, Medicaid, county-funded not otherwise specified, military, TRICARE, Veterans Health Administration, Indian Health Service/US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps), and uninsured.

Distance traveled by a patient to the identified treatment facility was calculated using the residential address at diagnosis, which was provided by CSP. Hospital addresses were then geocoded and straight-line distance was measured between patient residence and treatment facility using the ArcMap 10.2 geographic information system (Esri). We chose this approach because Euclidean distance has been shown to be correlated with drive time.22

Clinical Characteristics

Disease stage was defined using CSP summary staging; this method is based on the Collaborative Stage coding system and integrates TNM categories, stage groupings, and SEER Extent of Disease coding. For our analysis, localized/regional disease included localized and microinvasive disease and regional disease with either extension only, nodes only, or extension and nodes; advanced disease included remote disease.

Cases were selected using ICD-O-3–based disease site and histology coding, and all disease site codes were consistent with lung (C34). Only invasive cancers were included; both NSCLC and SCLC were included in the cohort.

Treatment Facility

To assign treatment facility, the facility associated with each episode of care was systematically identified. When more than one facility reported contact with a patient, we prioritized the facility where the patient had all or part of the first treatment course (with or without initial diagnosis) or where the decision was made not to treat. Facility–patient combinations were excluded if the patient did not appear in person, presented with disease recurrence/persistence, presented for second opinion, received in-transit care, or was seen for diagnostic workup only. At least one facility was therefore determined to be a patient’s a priori facility for treatment/nontreatment. Patients were considered to have been treated at a CCC if their identified facility was 1 of the 3 CCCs in Los Angeles County (UCLA Jonsson, USC Norris, and City of Hope). All other patients were considered to have received care at non-CCCs.

Statistical Analysis

Univariable and multivariable logistic regressions were used to identify factors associated with nontreatment for lung cancer. The magnitudes of association are presented as odds ratios (ORs) with associated 95% CIs. Analyses described later were repeated in patients with only advanced disease and produced identical findings (supplemental eTables 1 and 2, available with this article at JNCCN.org). Two-sided tests with P<.05 were considered statistically significant. SAS 9.3 (SAS Institute Inc.) was used for all analyses.

Results

Patients

Clinical and sociodemographic characteristics of the cohort (N=9,877) are summarized in Table 1. Most patients were men (55.8%), aged ≥40 years (97.9%), and NHW (54.5%), with representation of patients who were black (19.9%), Hispanic (13.2%), and Asian/Pacific Islander (12.4%). Most individuals had private insurance (59.5%), with smaller numbers having public (31.5%) or no insurance (9.0%). There was an even distribution among SES strata, with 19.3% in the highest SES group and 15.8% in the lowest SES group. Most tumors were NSCLC (86.3% vs 13.7% for SCLC) and were at an advanced stage (65.3%). Most patients sought care at non-CCCs (95.5%).

Table 1.

Patient Characteristics

Table 1.

No difference was seen between the “treatment” and “no treatment” groups with respect to age (P=.22) or histology (P=.46). Larger proportions of the “no treatment” group were black (23.8% vs 19.0%) or Hispanic (15.5% vs 12.6%; P<.001), were from the lowest SES group (22.8% vs 14.2%; P<.001), had public (38.6% vs 29.8%) or no insurance (13.6% vs 7.9%; P<.001), or were cared for at non-CCCs (98.7% vs 94.8%; P<.001). In addition, a larger proportion of the “no treatment” group had advanced disease (81.5% vs 61.5%; P<.001).

Treatment

A higher proportion of black (22.6%; n=446) and Hispanic (22.4%; n=291) patients diagnosed with lung cancer did not receive treatment compared with Asian/Pacific Islander (17.3%; n=211) and NHW patients (17.2%; n=925) (P<.001) (Figure 1). The proportion of patients not receiving lung cancer treatment was highest in the low SES group and increased with SES stratum (low, 27.3%; middle-low, 20.9%; middle, 20.5%; middle-high, 16.1%; high, 11.6%; P<.001). A larger proportion of publicly insured (23.2%; n=723) and uninsured (28.6%; n=254) patients did not receive treatment compared with those who were privately insured (15.2%; n=896; P<.001). Similarly, a larger proportion of patients cared for at non-CCC facilities did not receive treatment (19.6%; n=1,849) compared with those cared for at CCCs (5.4%; n=24; P<.001). Finally, a larger proportion of patients with advanced disease (23.7%; n=1,527) than with localized or regional disease (10.1%; n=346; P<.001) did not receive treatment.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Proportion of patients not receiving treatment of lung cancer, according to (A) race/ethnicity, (B) socioeconomic status, (C) insurance status, (D) treatment facility, and (E) disease stage.

Abbreviation: CCC, NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Citation: Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network J Natl Compr Canc Netw 17, 8; 10.6004/jnccn.2019.7294

Characteristics Associated With Nontreatment

As presented in Table 2, in univariable analysis (model 1), both black (OR, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.24–1.60; P<.001) and Hispanic patients (OR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.20–1.61; P<.001) had higher odds of not receiving treatment than NHW patients (reference group [ref]). The odds of nontreatment by race/ethnicity were not substantially altered by adjusting for age (model 2; black: OR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.27–1.64; P<.001; Hispanic: OR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.26–1.69; P<.001), nor were the odds of nontreatment by race/ethnicity substantially altered by further adjustment for sex, disease stage, histology, distance to nearest CCC, year of diagnosis, and treatment facility (model 3; black: OR, 1.33; 95% CI, 1.17–1.52; P<.001; Hispanic: OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.10–1.49; P=.002). There was minimal change in odds of nontreatment by race/ethnicity when adjusting for insurance status in addition to the previously mentioned variables (model 4; black: OR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.06–1.39; P=.004; Hispanic: OR, 1.17; 95% CI, 1.01–1.37; P=.04). However, in model 5, when including SES in the multivariable model with all previous variables, the increased odds of nontreatment by race/ethnicity was mitigated (black: OR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.88–1.17; P=.80; Hispanic: OR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.85–1.18; P=1.00).

Table 2.

Odds of Nontreatment

Table 2.

In the final multivariable model (model 5), including race/ethnicity, age, sex, diagnosis year, disease stage, histology, treatment facility, insurance status, and SES, the following characteristics remained independently associated with nontreatment: treatment facility ([ref: CCC]; non-CCC: OR, 3.22; 95% CI, 2.12–4.90; P<.001), insurance status ([ref: private]; public, OR, 1.71; 95% CI, 1.44–2.03; P<.001; uninsured: OR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.16–1.47; P<.001), and SES ([ref: high]; middle-high: OR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.14–1.64; P=.001; middle: OR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.44–2.08; P<.001; middle-low: OR, 1.66; 95% CI, 1.37–2.00; P<.001; low: OR, 2.15; 95% CI, 1.75–2.64; P<.001). Additional characteristics associated with nontreatment included age (OR, 1.03; 95% CI, 1.02–1.04; P<.001) and disease stage ([ref: localized/regional]; advanced: OR, 2.69; 95% CI, 2.36–3.06; P<.001).

Discussion

Our population-level findings among nonelderly patients (aged 22–65 years) with lung cancer indicate that although race/ethnicity at first appears to be associated with not receiving treatment, it is the patient's SES that is associated with nontreatment. Essentially, SES mitigates the higher odds of nontreatment in this population. Factors independently associated with not receiving lung cancer treatment include both SES and insurance status together with receiving treatment at a non-CCC, taking into account age, diagnosis year, distance to treatment facility, and clinical factors.

Few studies have examined younger adults with lung cancer who do not receive treatment.9,11,23 It is key to examine younger patients separately, because older patients inherently face more comorbidities and functional challenges that inform their treatment decisions.24,25 In younger patients, it is crucial to identify barriers to treatment that are related to healthcare delivery (insurance, SES, treatment facility).

Our results suggest that race/ethnicity is not associated with nontreatment in younger adults with lung cancer, once SES is accounted for. Among older patients with lung cancer, those who are black have inferior survival compared with NHW patients1,2 and receive surgical intervention and radiation less often,27 with comparable survival among patients undergoing surgical intervention.3,4 Consistent with our findings, those of single-institution studies15 and large studies of older patients4,26,27 emphasize the importance of accounting for not only clinical factors and receipt of treatment but also SES and access to treatment in black patients with lung cancer when considering reports of poor survival.4,27 According to our findings, SES effectively mitigates the association between race/ethnicity and nontreatment. These novel population-level results expand on conceptual frameworks from single-institution and small cohort studies in which SES is a mitigating factor in apparent racial disparities in staging and outcomes for adult-onset cancers.15,28,29 Because SES encompasses aspects of both income and education, this implies that treatment decisions may be influenced by both health literacy and the ability to afford treatment.

In our young cohort, nontreatment was more likely in patients without private insurance, echoing treatment patterns in studies of older patients.30,31 Lack of private insurance has been associated with inferior overall survival in both elderly and nonelderly populations.3234 The association between treatment decisions and insurance status could be related to referral patterns, but also to out-of-pocket costs. For example, the study period was before implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and therefore patients with private insurance likely had employer-sponsored coverage and may have been able to afford higher out-of-pocket costs than those with public or no insurance, thereby influencing treatment decisions. Distance to treatment facility was not associated with nontreatment, suggesting that SES and insurance status play a role in treatment decisions but that physical distance and transportation barriers do not. This is important to note in this Los Angeles County cohort, because patients in this population-dense area, which is home to >10 million residents in an area of <5,000 square miles,35 often face significant transportation challenges.

Nontreatment was 3 times more likely in patients cared for at non-CCCs versus CCCs. This population-level finding suggests that, adjusting for clinical and sociodemographic characteristics together with age and year of diagnosis, nonelderly patients with lung cancer who seek care at a CCC are more likely to receive treatment than comparable patients who seek care at a non-CCC; this expands on findings in older populations with a number of adult-onset cancers.9 Our team has previously shown that patients with lung cancer who receive care at CCCs have superior overall survival19; our present study indicates that one of the differences contributing to these outcomes includes nontreatment. Variations in therapy between CCCs and non-CCCs can be nuanced between facilities and not easily identified at the population level (eg, treatment protocols, multidisciplinary team approaches to care, availability of clinical trials, supportive care practices, availability of targeted therapy or immunotherapy). However, our findings show that such variations between CCCs and non-CCCs can also be basic differences, such as treatment/no treatment.

Patients with advanced-stage lung cancer, as expected,8,9,18,36,37 were less likely to receive treatment. Studies limited to advanced or metastatic disease report rates of nontreatment comparable to those in our study (21.0% vs 19.0%).11 It is conceivable that this trend is caused by either a real or perceived inability to treat the cancer, especially in older patients with shorter life expectancy. Although advanced stage is associated with nontreatment, a substantial proportion of our cohort (34.7%) did not have advanced disease; these patients represented nearly 20% of the “no treatment” cohort. As expected, age is also associated with nontreatment. In this young cohort, the trend seen when age was considered categorically clarifies that the magnitude of effect increases as age increases; specifically, when compared with patients diagnosed between ages 22 and 49 years, the highest odds of nontreatment are seen in the oldest patients (60–65 years: OR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.24–1.71; 50–59 years: OR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.04–1.43; P<.001) (supplemental eTable 3). This finding underscores the importance of recognizing not only the clinical factors but also the factors related to healthcare delivery (eg, SES, insurance) when considering these treatment decisions and potential barriers.

Due to the nature of registry data, our study was unable to account for comorbidities or performance status. However, this cohort was limited to younger patients (aged ≤65 years), thus minimizing the effect of functional status, comorbidities, and patient preference on treatment decision-making. Although registry data rely on case abstraction for data accuracy, recent literature supports minimal underascertainment of chemotherapy (10%), radiation (12%), and nontreatment (4%) in SEER38,39; the magnitude of effect in our findings suggests that underascertainment would not bias these results. Furthermore, the data were unable to differentiate between treatments that were recommended but declined and those that were not recommended. Finally, there is minimal granularity to the type of treatment received (ie, type of surgery or chemotherapy [eg, targeted agent vs traditional therapeutic approach]); thus, treatments were categorized broadly. With that in mind, new advancements in relevant lung cancer therapy occurred during the study period, including targeted therapy (tyrosine kinase inhibitors targeting EGFR, ALK) and immunotherapy. We categorized the treatment variable broadly to include all of these modalities; in addition, all analyses were adjusted for diagnosis year to account for the advent of new therapy over time. However, future studies are warranted to further understand the impact of the cost of and access to targeted therapy and their role in nontreatment. Finally, although the data do not include referral source to identify patients who self-referred to a CCC, it is possible that patients with a higher intent to receive treatment would self-refer to a CCC. Nevertheless, the fact that SES, insurance, and CCC remain independently associated with nontreatment in multivariable analysis indicates that they each maintain an effect when considering the other variables. This finding is consistent with the notion that education, income, and insurance are each a part of the construct of nontreatment in this population.

Conclusions

Disparities in race/ethnicity and nonreceipt of lung cancer treatment were explained by SES in nonelderly patients with varying stages of NSCLC and SCLC. Factors found to be independently associated with nonreceipt of lung cancer treatment in this population included SES, insurance status, and treatment at a non-CCC. These findings highlight the importance of future work to understand the underlying reasons why SES, insurance status, and treatment facility serve as barriers to receiving treatment among young patients with lung cancer. Specifically, understanding whether these factors serve as barriers to being offered or receiving treatment will be crucial in the development of targeted interventions, which could range from health literacy/educational programs to insurance-related policy and advocacy or even transportation assistance, depending on the ultimate conceptual model. Such work could potentially ameliorate disparities in treatment, leading to the optimization of healthcare delivery and improved outcomes among all patients.

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Kelly Kenzik, PhD, and Smita Bhatia, MD, MPH, to this project.

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Submitted November 16, 2018; accepted for publication March 8, 2019.

Author contributions: Study concept: Nardi, Wolfson. Study design: Nardi, Sun, Wolfson. Data analysis: Nardi, Sun, Wolfson. Data interpretation: All authors. Manuscript preparation: Nardi, Sun, Wolfson. Critical revision: All authors.

Disclosures: The authors have disclosed that they have not received any financial considerations from any person or organization to support the preparation, analysis, results, or discussion of this article.

Funding: This work was supported by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, St. Baldrick’s Scholar Award (Wolfson), the NCCN Quality of Care Fellowship supported by a grant from Genentech (Nardi). Research reported in this article was supported by NCI of the National Institutes of Health under award number K12CA001727 (Wolfson).

Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Correspondence: Julie A. Wolfson, MD, MSHS, Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship, O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, 1600 7th Avenue South, Lowder 500, Birmingham, AL 35233. Email: jwolfson@peds.uab.edu

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    Proportion of patients not receiving treatment of lung cancer, according to (A) race/ethnicity, (B) socioeconomic status, (C) insurance status, (D) treatment facility, and (E) disease stage.

    Abbreviation: CCC, NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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