Health Insurance and Breast-Conserving Surgery With Radiation Treatment

Published Online: June 25, 2014
Askal Ayalew Ali, MA; Hong Xiao, PhD; and Gebre-Egziabher Kiros, PhD

To examine the impact of health insurance type on treatment of early-stage breast cancer using breast-conserving surgery (BCS) with radiation therapy (RT) among women in Florida and identify factors that contribute to the variations in receiving the treatment in women with the same health insurance type.

Study Design and Methods

Breast cancer cases diagnosed during 1997 to 2002 were obtained from the Florida Cancer Data System. Women 40 years and older diagnosed with localized breast cancer were included. Demographic, insurance, and treatment information were extracted and linked with 2000 census data. χ² and multilevel logistic regression analyses were used.


A total of 33,706 women were diagnosed with localized breast cancer in Florida during 1997 to 2002. The average age of the women was 66 years, 58.62% had BCS while 38.61% had mastectomy, and only 2.77% had no surgical treatment. Type of health insurance plays a significant role in receiving BCS with RT. Furthermore, we found significant variations in the use of BCS with RT among women who have the same type health insurance by marital status, age, tumor size, year of diagnosis, level of education, and poverty level.


Although clinical practice guidelines recommend BCS with RT to treat women with localized breast cancer, significant differences in receiving the recommended treatment is found between and within types of health insurance. Identifying cultural barriers and educating the public about available treatment options are the major policy implications of this study. These observed differences require further study.

Am J Manag Care. 2014;20(6):502-516
Breast cancer occurs in both genders; however, it is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, behind only lung cancer.1 Florida ranks third in the United States for new breast cancer cases and for breast cancer deaths.1 There are variations in the incidence and mortality in breast cancer by race and ethnicity, and certain racial and ethnic groups are more vulnerable to breast cancer than others.2 For example, white women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, while black women are more likely to die from it.3 Differences in survival rates have been attributed to a variety of causes: late-stage diagnosis, type of treatment, characteristics of the tumor, and type of health insurance.3-7 Specifically, it has been reported that Medicaid-insured patients with breast cancer have the lowest 8-year survival rates.8

Since 1990, the death rates for breast cancer have been steadily declining due to earlier detection and improved treatment.1 Receiving timely treatment for newly diagnosed breast cancer is an important predictor of patient survival for localized breast cancer.9 Women treated for localized breast cancer are more likely to survive than women treated for late-stage cancer.10 Surgery (breast-conserving surgery [BCS], partial mastectomy, or full mastectomy), chemotherapy, radiation therapy (RT), and hormone therapy are some of the treatment options available for patients with breast cancer. Breast conservation therapy with radiation and mastectomy are equally effective for early-stage breast cancer and have similar survival rates.11-15 The National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Treatment of Early- Stage Breast Cancer16 recommends BCS with RT as the appropriate therapy for stage 1 and stage 2 breast cancer. BCS with RT is preferable to total mastectomy because it preserves the breast without shortening survival. The advantages of improved self-image and emotional well-being may make BCS the preferred treatment choice for women with stage 1 or stage 2 breast cancer.13

Decisions related to treatment options for early-stage breast cancer can be influenced by several intertwined factors that operate at various levels. Even though BCS/RT and mastectomy are equally recommended treatments, the mastectomy rate in the late 2000s has increased to a rate similar to that of the 1990s, after showing a substantial decline in the early/mid 2000s.17 In fact, excessive use of mastectomy has been well documented.18 The preference for mastectomy has been attributed particularly to misconceptions about BCS and physicians’ use of inappropriate selection criteria.19 Other studies have shown that choosing BCS is influenced by type of health insurance,8 marital status,20 and level of high school education attained.21,22 A recent study has documented that while BCS has become an increasingly popular choice, the use of RT after BCS has been decreasing.23

The literature on the effect of the type of health insurance a woman has on the use of RT after BCS presents an unclear picture. A study that used data from the Metropolitan Detroit Cancer Surveillance System (n = 5719) found that women insured with Medicaid were less likely to use BCS with RT than women who were not insured with Medicaid.8 Another study that used data obtained from 4 hospitals in the metropolitan New York area (n = 731) documented that Medicaid-insured and uninsured women were also less likely to use RT after BCS relative to privately insured or Medicare-insured women.24 Both studies used data collected between 1994 and 1997. Using data collected between 1997 and 2000 (n = 23,817) from the Florida Cancer Data System (FCDS), Voti and colleagues reported that while Medicareinsured women were more likely to use standard treatment (mastectomy or BCS with RT) for local breast cancer than privately insured women, the uninsured as well as Medicaid- insured were less likely to use standard treatment for local breast cancer than privately insured women.20

The aim of this study was to examine the impact of health insurance type on treatment of early-stage breast cancer using the recommended BCS with RT, and identify factors that contribute to women’s decision to choose such treatment. An additional aim of the study was to investigate racial/ethnic differences in the use of recommended treatment.

This study has 3 specific objectives: (1) to examine the impact of health insurance type and other socioeconomic and demographic factors on the use of BCS in combination with RT among women diagnosed with local breast cancer in Florida between 1997 and 2002 using a multilevel approach; (2) to investigate racial/ethnic differences in the use of recommended treatment and identify additional factors that contribute to the differences among women who were covered with the same type of health insurance; and (3) to analyze the trends in the use of recommended RT after BCS using a statewide cancer registry system.

There has been an unmet need for research on the relationship between race/ethnicity and the availability of advanced and shifting treatment choices and the role of health insurance type in eliminating health disparities. This study attempts to fill the gap in our knowledge about the impact of type of health insurance and other social and demographic factors on the use of RT after BCS and identify common and unique factors that contribute to disparities in the use of recommended treatment for breast cancer. The ongoing debate about health insurance and access to healthcare, in particular with the 2010 enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), makes this study not only important, but timely.

In this paper, we used the Health Seeking Behavior Model (HSBM), the first conceptual behavioral model developed mainly to deal with public health problems,25 to examine factors associated with the likelihood of receiving BCS with radiation. The HSBM provides a useful theoretical framework and may help us better understand treatment choices women make after receiving a localized breast cancer diagnosis. It specifically models how patients use or do not use different kinds of health services. According to the model, factors related to use of healthcare services are characteristics of the patient (age, sex, marital status, ethnicity, education, and resources), service characteristics, and the characteristics as well as the patient’s perception of the disorder. The HSBM has been used to investigate the choices people make about whether or not to use various health services.26


Data Source

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Issue: June 2014
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