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Gaps in Treatment and Surveillance: Head and Neck Cancer Care in a Safety-Net Hospital.



Treatment delays and suboptimal adherence to posttreatment surveillance may adversely affect head and neck cancer (HNC) outcomes. Such challenges can be exacerbated in safety-net settings that struggle with limited resources and serve a disproportionate number of patients vulnerable to gaps in care. This study aims to characterize treatment delays and adherence with posttreatment surveillance in HNC care at an urban tertiary care public hospital in San Francisco.

Study design

Retrospective chart review.


Urban tertiary care public hospital in San Francisco.

Subjects and methods

We identified all cases of HNC diagnosed from 2008 to 2010 through the electronic medical record. We abstracted data, including patient characteristics, disease characteristics, pathology and radiology findings, treatment details, posttreatment follow-up, and clinical outcomes.


We included 64 patients. Median time from diagnosis to treatment initiation (DTI) was 57 days for all patients, 54 days for patients undergoing surgery only, 49 days for patients undergoing surgery followed by adjuvant radiation ± chemotherapy, 65 days for patients undergoing definitive radiation ± chemotherapy, and 29 days for patients undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by radiation or chemoradiation. Overall, 69% of patients completed recommended treatment. Forty-two of 61 (69%) patients demonstrated adherence to posttreatment visits in year 1; this fell to 14 out of 30 patients (47%) by year 5.


DTI was persistently prolonged in this study compared with prior studies in other public hospital settings. Adherence to posttreatment surveillance was suboptimal and continued to decline as the surveillance period progressed.

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