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PLoS One. 2019 Jun 12;14(6):e0217434. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217434. eCollection 2019.

"Age matters"-German claims data indicate disparities in lung cancer care between elderly and young patients.

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German Research Center for Environmental Health, Institute for Health Economics and Health Care Management (IGM), Helmholtz Zentrum München, Germany.
German Center for Lung Research (DZL), Gießen, Germany.
Ludwig-Maximilians-University Hospital (LMU) Munich, Medical Clinic V-Pneumology, Munich, Germany.



Although lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed in elderly patients, evidence about tumor-directed therapy in elderly patients is sparse, and it is unclear to what extent this affects treatment and care. Our study aimed to discover potential disparities in care between elderly patients and those under 65 years of age.


We studied claims from 13 283 German patients diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 who survived for at least 90 days after diagnosis. We classified patients as "non-elderly" (≤ 65), "young-old" (65-74), "middle-old" (75-84), and "old-old" (≥ 85). We compared receipt of tumor-directed therapy (6 months after diagnosis), palliative care, opioids, antidepressants, and pathologic diagnosis confirmation via logistic regression. We used generalized linear regression (gamma distribution) to compare group-specific costs of care for 3 months after diagnosis. We adjusted all models by age, nursing home residency, nursing care need, comorbidity burden, and area of residence (urban, rural). The age group "non-elderly" served as reference group.


Compared with the reference group "non-elderly", the likelihood of receiving any tumor-directed treatment was significantly lower in all age groups with a decreasing gradient with advancing age. Elderly lung cancer patients received significantly fewer resections and radiotherapy than non-elderly patients. In particular, treatment with antineoplastic therapy declined with increasing age ("young-old" (OR = 0.76, CI = [0.70,0.83]), "middle-old" (OR = 0.45, CI = [0.36,0.50]), and "old-old" (OR = 0.13, CI = [0.10,0.17])). Patients in all age groups were less likely to receive structured palliative care than "non-elderly" ("young-old" (OR = 0.84, CI = [0.76,0.92]), "middle-old" (OR = 0.71, CI = [0.63,0.79]), and "old-old" (OR = 0.57, CI = [0.44,0.73])). Moreover, increased age was significantly associated with reduced quotas for outpatient treatment with opioids and antidepressants. Costs of care decreased significantly with increasing age.


This study suggests the existence of age-dependent care disparities in lung cancer patients, where elderly patients are at risk of potential undertreatment. To support equal access to care, adjustments to public health policies seem to be urgently required.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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