Is patient travel distance associated with survival on phase II clinical trials in oncology?

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003 Sep 17;95(18):1370-5. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djg035.


Background: Prior research has suggested that patients who travel out of their neighborhood for elective care from specialized medical centers may have better outcomes than local patients with the same illnesses who are treated at the same centers. We hypothesized that this phenomenon, often called "referral bias" or "distance bias," may also be evident in curative-intent cancer trials at specialized cancer centers.

Methods: We evaluated associations between overall survival and progression-free survival and the distance from the patient residence to the treating institution for 110 patients treated on one of four phase II curative-intent chemoradiotherapy protocols for locoregionally advanced squamous cell cancer of the head and neck conducted at the University of Chicago over 7 years.

Results: Using Cox regression that adjusted for standard patient-level disease and demographic factors and neighborhood-level economic factors, we found a positive association between the distance patients traveled from their residence to the treatment center and survival. Patients who lived more than 15 miles from the treating institution had only one-third the hazard of death of those living closer (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.32, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.12 to 0.84). Moreover, with every 10 miles that a patient traveled for care, the hazard of death decreased by 3.2% (HR = 0.97, 95% CI = 0.94 to 0.99). Similar results were obtained for progression-free survival.

Conclusion: Results of phase II curative-intent clinical trials in oncology that are conducted at specialized cancer centers may be confounded by patient travel distance, which captures prognostic significance beyond cancer stage, performance status, and wealth. More work is needed to determine what unmeasured factors travel distance is mediating.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bias
  • Cancer Care Facilities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • Chicago
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Hospitals, University / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology / organization & administration
  • Medical Oncology / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Patient Selection*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Survival Rate*
  • Travel*