The impact of health insurance status on stage at diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer

Cancer. 2007 Jul 15;110(2):395-402. doi: 10.1002/cncr.22788.


Background: Although patients who have early-stage oropharyngeal cancer can be treated with little impairment of function, the treatment of advanced disease can result in decreased quality of life and mortality. Patients without insurance and with other barriers to access to care may delay seeking medical attention for early symptoms, resulting in more advanced disease at presentation. In this study, the authors examined whether patients who had no insurance or who were covered by Medicaid insurance were more likely to present with advanced oropharyngeal cancer.

Methods: In this retrospective cohort study from the National Cancer Database from 1996 to 2003, patients with known insurance status who were diagnosed with invasive oropharyngeal cancer at Commission on Cancer facilities (n = 40,487) were included. Adjusted and unadjusted logistic regression models were used to analyze the likelihood of presenting with more advanced stage disease.

Results: After controlling for other sociodemographic characteristics, patients with advanced oropharyngeal cancer at diagnosis were more likely to be uninsured (odds ratio [OR], 1.37; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 1.21-1.25) or covered by Medicaid (OR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.19-1.46) compared with patients who had private insurance. Similarly, patients were most likely to present with the largest tumors (T4 disease) if they were uninsured (OR, 2.82; 95% CI, 2.46-3.23) or covered by Medicaid (OR, 2.95; 95% CI, 2.63-3.31). They also were more likely to present with the greatest degree of lymph node involvement (N3) if they were uninsured (OR, 2.06; 95% CI, 1.76-2.40) or covered by Medicaid (OR, 1.66; 95% CI, 1.45-1.90).

Conclusions: Individuals who lacked insurance or had Medicaid coverage were at the greatest risk for presenting with advanced oropharyngeal cancer. In the current study, the results for the Medicaid group may have been influenced by the postdiagnostic enrollment of uninsured patients. Insurance coverage appeared to be a highly modifiable predictor of cancer stage. The findings indicated that it is important to consider the impact of insurance coverage on disease stage at diagnosis and associated morbidity, mortality, and quality of life.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health*
  • Male
  • Medically Uninsured
  • Middle Aged
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Retrospective Studies