Context: Cancer care requires specialty surgical and medical resources that are less likely to be found in rural areas.
Purpose: To examine the travel patterns and distances of rural and urban colorectal cancer (CRC) patients to 3 types of specialty cancer care services--surgery, medical oncology consultation, and radiation oncology consultation.
Methods: Descriptive cross-sectional study using linked Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) cancer registry and Medicare claims data for 27,143 individuals ages 66 and older diagnosed with stages I through III CRC between 1992 and 1996.
Findings: Over 90% of rural CRC patients lived within 30 miles of a surgical hospital offering CRC surgery, but less than 50% of CRC patients living in small and isolated small rural areas had a medical or radiation oncologist within 30 miles. Rural CRC patients who traveled outside their geographic areas for their cancer care often went great distances. The median distance traveled by rural cancer patients who traveled to urban cancer care providers was 47.8 miles or more. A substantial proportion (between 19.4% and 26.0%) of all rural patients bypassed their closest medical and radiation oncology services by at least 30 miles.
Conclusions: Rural CRC patients often travel long distances for their CRC care, with potential associated burdens of time, cost, and discomfort. Better understanding of whether this travel investment is paid off in improved quality of care would help rural cancer patients, most of whom are elderly, make informed decisions about how to use their resources during their cancer treatment.