Impact of Primary Care Access on Mortality of Lung Cancer Patients in an Underserved Community

Lack of access to primary care physicians (PCPs) may be an important contributor to mortality differences attributed to race/ethnicity. This study examined the effects of primary care access on mortality of lung cancer patients in an underserved community.

Medical records of all newly diagnosed patients with primary lung cancer from 2012 to 2016 at a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated center in Bronx, New York were reviewed. Demographic data, PCP status, and residence in primary care shortage areas (PCSAs) were collected. Survival data from time of first imaging to death or the end of follow-up on January 1, 2018 were recorded. Survival analysis was performed using Kaplan-Meier and Cox hazards modeling.

Among 1062 patients, 874 (82%) were PCSA residents, 314 (30%) were Hispanic, and 445 (42%) were African American. PCSA residents were likely Hispanics (P<0.001), African Americans (P<0.001), of lower income (P<0.001), and had advanced disease at diagnosis (P=0.01). Patients without established PCPs had more comorbidities (P=0.04), more advanced disease (P<0.001), and less in-network cancer treatment (P<0.001). PCSA residence (P=0.03, hazard ratio [HR]=1.27) and no established PCP (P<0.001, HR=1.50) were associated with increased mortality. In multivariable modeling, lack of established PCP remained a predictor of increased mortality (P=0.02, HR=1.25).

Among newly diagnosed lung cancer patients, lack of established PCP is associated with increased mortality. Hispanics and African Americans increasingly resided in PCSAs, suggesting race/ethnicity mortality differences may be mediated by primary care shortage. Patients without PCPs had worse health outcomes. Effective health policy efforts to reduce mortality in lung cancer patients must include approaches to improve primary care access.