Importance: Rural patients with colon cancer experience worse outcomes than urban patients, but the extent to which disparities are explained by social determinants is not known.
Objectives: To evaluate the association of rurality with surgical treatment and outcomes of colon cancer and to investigate the intersection of rurality with race and ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
Design, settings, and participants: This cohort study included fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries 65 years or older diagnosed with incident, nonmetastatic colon cancer between April 1, 2016, and September 30, 2018, with follow-up until December 31, 2018. Data were analyzed from August 3, 2020, to April 30, 2021.
Exposures: Rurality of patient's residence, categorized as metropolitan, micropolitan, or small town or rural, using Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes.
Main outcomes and measures: Receipt of surgery, emergent surgery, or minimally invasive surgery (MIS); 90-day surgical complications; and 90-day mortality.
Results: Among 57 710 Medicare beneficiaries with incident, nonmetastatic colon cancer, 46.6% were men, 53.4% were women, and the mean (SD) age was 76.6 (7.2) years. In terms of race and ethnicity, 3.7% were Hispanic, 6.4% were non-Hispanic Black (hereinafter Black), 86.1% were non-Hispanic White (hereinafter White), and 3.8% were American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, or unknown race or ethnicity. Patients residing in nonmetropolitan areas were more likely to undergo surgical resection than those residing in metropolitan areas (69.2% vs 63.9%; P < .001). Black race was independently associated with lower hazard of surgical resection (hazard ratio, 0.92 [95% CI, 0.88-0.95]). Race and ethnicity and measures of socioeconomic status did not modify the association of rurality with surgery. Beneficiaries from small town and rural areas had higher odds of undergoing emergent surgery (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.32 [95% CI, 1.20-1.44]) but lower odds of undergoing MIS (adjusted OR, 0.75 [95% CI, 0.70-0.80]), with similar findings for patients residing in micropolitan areas. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups who resided in small town and rural settings experienced higher odds of postoperative surgical complications (P = .001 for interaction) and mortality (P = .001 for interaction). Notably, White patients who resided in small town and rural areas experienced lower odds of postoperative mortality than their White metropolitan counterparts (adjusted OR, 0.81 [95% CI, 0.71-0.92]), but Black patients who resided in small town and rural areas had significantly higher odds of postoperative mortality (adjusted OR, 1.86 [95% CI, 1.16-2.97]) than their Black metropolitan counterparts.
Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that Medicare beneficiaries from small town and rural areas were more likely to undergo surgery for nonmetastatic colon cancer than metropolitan beneficiaries but also more likely to undergo emergent surgery and less likely to have MIS. The experiences of rural patients varied by race; rurality was associated with higher postoperative mortality for Black patients but not for other racial and ethnic groups.