Inter-hospital variation in data collection, radiotherapy treatment, and survival in patients with head and neck cancer: A multisite study

Radiother Oncol. 2023 Nov:188:109843. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2023.109843. Epub 2023 Aug 4.


Background and purpose: Inter-hospital inequalities in head and neck cancer (HNC) survival may exist due to variation in radiotherapy treatment-related factors. This study investigated inter-hospital variation in data collection, primary radiotherapy treatment, and survival in HNC patients from an Australian setting.

Materials and methods: Data collected in oncology information systems (OIS) from seven Australian hospitals was extracted for 3,182 adults treated with curative radiotherapy, with or without surgery or chemotherapy, for primary, non-metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (2000-2017). Death data was sourced from the National Death Index using record linkage. Multivariable Cox regression was used to assess the association between survival and hospital.

Results: Inter-hospital variation in data collection, primary radiotherapy dose, and five-year HNC-related death was detected. Completion of eleven fields ranged from 66%-98%. Primary radiotherapy treated Tis-T1N0 glottic and any stage oral cavity and oropharynx cancers received significantly different time-corrected biologically equivalent dose in two gray fractions (EQD2T) by hospital, with observed deviation from Australian radiotherapy guidelines. Increased EQD2T dose was associated with a reduced risk of five-year HNC-related death in all patients and those treated with primary radiotherapy. Hospital, tumour site, and T and N classification were also identified as independent prognostic factors for five-year HNC-related death in all patients treated with radiotherapy.

Conclusion: Unexplained variation exists in HNC-related death in patients treated at Australian hospitals. Available routinely collected data in OIS are insufficient to explain variation in survival. Innovative data collection, extraction, and classification practices are needed to inform clinical practice.

Keywords: Data collection; Head and neck cancer; Inter-hospital variation; Radiotherapy; Survival.