Method to keep track of cancer comorbidities is successful; may help cancer research

St. Louis, Sept. 16, 2003 -- Many cancer patients have other diseases, and those ailments can influence their chance of survival and response to treatment. Although physicians take a person's overall health into account when determining prognosis and making treatment recommendations, that information is not recorded in tumor registries and used in medical research, according to Jay F. Piccirillo, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology and medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Piccirillo and his team have developed a program to train cancer registrars to track patients' other diseases, called comorbidities. Five centers around the country, including the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, have been learning and implementing the program since 1999. Piccirillo discussed his group's methods today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2003 Cancer Conference in Atlanta. At the same conference, another team member and research assistant, Irene Costas, outlined findings from the first five centers. "Comorbidity is increasingly recognized as an important feature of the patient with cancer,"

Piccirillo explains. "Some people are skeptical about whether it's practical to train registrars to code comorbidity information, but our research shows that the method we've developed is easy for them to learn and to do well."

He believes recording comorbidities will provide more comprehensive profiles of patients and improve cancer research. For example, a patient's chance of survival depends not only on his or her cancer type and severity but also on the patient's other health problems. Therefore, in comparing the success of two treatments, it may not be accurate to simply compare all cancer patients undergoing treatment. Similarly, comorbidities can cloud quality-of-care assessments across different institutions since certain institutions tend to se

Contact: Gila Z. Reckess
Washington University School of Medicine

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