Going the Distance for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer patients who traveled long distances tended to have later stage disease

(RxWiki News) Travel in rural North Dakota and Minnesota — especially during the winter — is difficult. One medical student in North Dakota was curious to learn if travel distances impacted breast cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatment.A new study uncovered that the farther women lived from cancer centers, the more advanced their disease tended to be at diagnosis and the more likely they were to have a mastectomy. 

The researchers suggested these findings highlight the need for women living in rural areas to have better access to cancer screening and treatment.

"Keep up with your breast cancer screening schedule."

Krishan Jethwa, a medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and colleagues sought to determine if women in rural North Dakota and Minnesota were disadvantaged in terms of breast cancer screening, treatment and survival.

The team analyzed information on 260 women who were diagnosed at a comprehensive cancer center in Fargo, North Dakota during 2007.

Participants had no previous history of cancer. The average age of the women was 60 years.

Travel distance was categorized into four groups: less than 15 miles, 15 to 44 miles, 45 to 59 miles and more than 60 miles.

The breast cancer stage at diagnosis was grouped into early (stages 0-2) and late (stages 3-4).

About half of the women lived over 45 miles away and half lived within 45 miles of the cancer center.

Of the group, 10.7 percent were diagnosed with later stage breast cancer, 59.2 percent received a lumpectomy (removal of tumor), 40.3 percent underwent mastectomies (surgical removal of breast), and 61.5 percent had radiotherapy following surgery.

The researchers reported that the farther the travel distance, the more likely women were to have a later-stage breast cancer diagnosis and to have had a mastectomy.

There was no association between travel distance and age at diagnosis, receipt of radiotherapy or five-year survival, the researchers discovered.

“Improvements in access to cancer treatment may be necessary for women in rural areas,” the researchers concluded.

Findings from this study were presented at the 12th Annual AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.

All research is considered preliminary before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

No conflicts of interest were declared.

Review Date: 
October 28, 2013