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Urban–Rural Variations in Quality of Care Among Patients With Cancer in California

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Previous research suggests cancer patients living in rural areas have lower quality of care, but population-based studies have yielded inconsistent results. This study examines the impact of rurality on care quality for 7 cancer types in California.


Breast, ovarian, endometrial, cervix, colon, lung, and gastric cancer patients diagnosed from 2004 to 2017 were identified in the California Cancer Registry. Multivariable logistic regression and proportional hazards models were used to assess effects of residential location on quality of care and survival. Stratified models examined the impact of treatment at National Cancer Institute designated cancer centers (NCICCs). Quality of care was evaluated using Commission on Cancer measures. Medical Service Study Areas were used to assess urban/rural status. Data were collected in 2004-2019 and analyzed in 2020.


989,747 cancer patients were evaluated, with 14% living in rural areas. Rural patients had lower odds of receiving radiation after breast conserving surgery compared to urban residents. Colon and gastric cancer patients had 20% and 16% lower odds, respectively, of having optimal surgery. Rural patients treated at NCICCs had greater odds of recommended surgery for most cancer types. Survival was similar among urban and rural subgroups.


Rural residence was inversely associated with receipt of recommended surgery for gastric and colon cancer patients not treated at NCICCs, and for receiving recommended radiotherapy after breast conserving surgery regardless of treatment location. Further studies investigating the impact of care location and availability of supportive services on urban-rural differences in quality of care are warranted.

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