Background: Randomized clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of adjuvant 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-based chemotherapy after surgical resection of node-positive colon cancer. Although this treatment became the standard in 1990 following a National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference, among those at least 65 years of age it is less likely to be offered to older or nonwhite patients.
Objective: To determine the association between 5-fu-based chemotherapy and survival in older patients.
Design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: Combined database of the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and Medicare.
Patients: 4768 patients 65 years of age or older who received a diagnosis of node-positive colon cancer from 1992 to 1996, were covered by Medicare Parts A and B, and resided in the population covered by the SEER program.
Measurements: Propensity scores to control for known predictors of receiving treatment, Cox proportional hazards models to assess the association of 5-FU therapy with survival, and sensitivity analyses to estimate the possible effects of unknown confounders.
Results: Fifty-two percent of patients received 5-FU therapy. For this sample, the hazard ratio for death associated with 5-FU therapy was 0.66 (95% CI, 0.60 to 0.73). Confounding could have accounted for this association only if an unmeasured confounder were extremely unequally distributed between the treated and untreated groups or increased mortality by at least 50%.
Conclusions: 5-Fluorouracil adjuvant therapy is significantly associated with reduced mortality in older patients, similar to the association found in randomized, controlled trials among younger patients. More frequent use of 5-FU therapy in older patients would probably reduce death from colon cancer.