Objective: The purpose of this research was to determine whether comorbidity affects the stage at which breast cancer is diagnosed.
Methods: Data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was merged with Medicare claims for 17,468 women diagnosed with breast cancer from 1993 to 1995.
Results: Women with cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, mild-to-moderate gastrointestinal disease, and nonmalignant benign breast disease had a 13%, 7%, 14%, and 24% lower odds, respectively, of being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Women with diabetes, other endocrine disorders, psychiatric disorders, or hematologic disorders increased the odds of a late-stage diagnosis by 19%, 11%, 20%, and 19% respectively. Mammography screening and contact with the medical care system decreased the odds of late-stage diagnosis.
Discussion: Four hypotheses are suggested to explain this link between comorbid illness and stage at diagnosis: (1) the "surveillance" hypothesis, (2) the "physiological" hypothesis, (3) the "competing demand" hypothesis, and (4) the "death from other causes" hypothesis.
Conclusions: Comorbidity may complicate the diagnostic decision-making process for breast cancer. The results suggest that contact with the medical care system improves the odds of early-stage diagnosis. Thus, barriers to access for people with chronic conditions may exacerbate those chronic conditions and increase the odds of late-stage breast cancer.