Context: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Surgical resection for stage I or II non-small cell cancer remains the only reliable treatment for cure. Patients who do not undergo surgery have a median survival of less than 1 year. Despite the survival disadvantage, many patients with early-stage disease do not receive surgical care and rates are even lower for black patients.
Objectives: To identify potentially modifiable factors regarding surgery in patients newly diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer and to explore why blacks undergo surgery less often than whites.
Design, setting, and patients: Prospective cohort study with patients identified by pulmonary, oncology, thoracic surgery, and generalist practices in 5 communities through study referral or computerized tomography review protocol. A total of 437 patients with biopsy-proven or probable early-stage lung cancer were enrolled between December 2005 and December 2008. Before establishment of treatment plans, patients were administered a survey including questions about trust, patient-physician communication, attitudes toward cancer, and functional status. Information about comorbid illnesses was obtained through chart audits.
Main outcome measure: Lung cancer surgery within 4 months of diagnosis.
Results: A total of 386 patients met full eligibility criteria for lung resection surgery. The median age was 66 years (range, 26-90 years) and 29% of patients were black. The surgical rate was 66% for white patients (n = 179/273) compared with 55% for black patients (n = 62/113; P = .05). Negative perceptions of patient-physician communication manifested by a 5-point decrement on a 25-point communication scale (odds ratio [OR], 0.42; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.32-0.74) and negative perception of 1-year prognosis postsurgery (OR, 0.27; 95% CI, 0.14-0.50; absolute risk, 34%) were associated with decisions against surgery. Surgical rates for blacks were particularly low when they had 2 or more comorbid illnesses (13% vs 62% for <2 comorbidities; OR, 0.04 [95% CI, 0.01-0.25]; absolute risk, 49%) and when blacks lacked a regular source of care (42% with no regular care vs 57% with regular care; OR, 0.20 [95% CI, 0.10-0.43]; absolute risk, 15%).
Conclusions: A decision not to undergo surgery by patients with newly diagnosed lung cancer was independently associated with perceptions of communication and prognosis, older age, multiple comorbidities, and black race. Interventions to optimize surgery should consider these factors.