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. 2013 Nov 1;5(Suppl 1):3-29.
doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S47150.

The Impact of Comorbidity on Cancer Survival: A Review

Free PMC article

The Impact of Comorbidity on Cancer Survival: A Review

Mette Søgaard et al. Clin Epidemiol. .
Free PMC article


Background: A number of studies have shown poorer survival among cancer patients with comorbidity. Several mechanisms may underlie this finding. In this review we summarize the current literature on the association between patient comorbidity and cancer prognosis. Prognostic factors examined include tumor biology, diagnosis, treatment, clinical quality, and adherence.

Methods: All English-language articles published during 2002-2012 on the association between comorbidity and survival among patients with colon cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer were identified from PubMed, MEDLINE and Embase. Titles and abstracts were reviewed to identify eligible studies and their main results were then extracted.

Results: Our search yielded more than 2,500 articles related to comorbidity and cancer, but few investigated the prognostic impact of comorbidity as a primary aim. Most studies found that cancer patients with comorbidity had poorer survival than those without comorbidity, with 5-year mortality hazard ratios ranging from 1.1 to 5.8. Few studies examined the influence of specific chronic conditions. In general, comorbidity does not appear to be associated with more aggressive types of cancer or other differences in tumor biology. Presence of specific severe comorbidities or psychiatric disorders were found to be associated with delayed cancer diagnosis in some studies, while chronic diseases requiring regular medical visits were associated with earlier cancer detection in others. Another finding was that patients with comorbidity do not receive standard cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy as often as patients without comorbidity, and their chance of completing a course of cancer treatment is lower. Postoperative complications and mortality are higher in patients with comorbidity. It is unclear from the literature whether the apparent undertreatment reflects appropriate consideration of greater toxicity risk, poorer clinical quality, patient preferences, or poor adherence among patients with comorbidity.

Conclusion: Despite increasing recognition of the importance of comorbid illnesses among cancer patients, major challenges remain. Both treatment effectiveness and compliance appear compromised among cancer patients with comorbidity. Data on clinical quality is limited.

Keywords: cancer; comorbidity; diagnosis; survival; treatment.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Flowchart of the studies retrieved from the PubMed, MEDLINE and Embase literature search.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Some unanswered questions regarding the prognostic impact of comorbidity in cancer patients.

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