Background: Both the United States and Canada offer government-financed health insurance for the elderly, but few studies have compared care at the end of life for cancer patients between the two systems.
Methods: We identified care for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients who died of cancer at age 65 years and older during 1999-2003. Patients were identified from US Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare data (N = 13,533) and the Ontario Cancer Registry (N = 8100). Health claims during the last 5 months of life identified chemotherapy and emergency room use, hospitalizations, and supportive care. We estimated rates per person-months (PM) for short-term survivors (died <6 months after diagnosis) and longer-term survivors (died ≥6 months after diagnosis), adjusting for demographic differences. To test whether monthly rates in Ontario were statistically significantly different from the United States, standardized differences were computed, and a 99% confidence interval (CI) was constructed to account for the multiple tests performed. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: Rates of chemotherapy use were statistically significantly higher for SEER-Medicare patients than Ontario patients in every month before death (short-term survivors at 5 months before death: SEER-Medicare, 33.2 patients per 100 PM vs Ontario, 9.5 per 100 PM, rate difference = 23.7 per 100 PM, 99% CI = 18.3 to 29.1 per 100 PM, P < .001; longer-term survivors at 5 months before death: SEER-Medicare, 24.4 patients per 100 PM vs Ontario, 14.5 per 100 PM, rate difference = 9.9 per 100 PM, 99% CI = 7.7 to 12.1 per 100 PM, P <. 001). During the last 30 days of life, fewer SEER-Medicare than Ontario patients were hospitalized (short-term survivors, 49.9 vs 78.6 patients per 100 PM, rate difference = 28.6 per 100 PM, 95% CI = 22.9 to 34.4 per 100 PM, P <. 001; longer-term survivors, 44.1 vs 67.1 patients per 100 PM, rate difference = 23.0 per 100 PM, 95% CI = 18.5 to 27.5 per 100 PM, P < .001).
Conclusions: NSCLC patients in both Ontario and the United States used extensive end-of-life care. Limited availability of hospice care in Ontario and differing attitudes between the United States and Ontario regarding end-of-life care may explain the differences in practice patterns.