We previously investigated the impact of health area of residence on colon and rectal cancer survival by estimating area-specific relative excess risk of death (RER), stratified by stage at diagnosis. The aims of this study were to quantify errors in colorectal cancer stage obtained from an Australian population-based cancer registry and assess the potential impact of errors in stage on these estimates. For a subset of cases, we compared the cancer registry stage with that from a survey of treating surgeons. We then randomly reallocated all cases to a simulated corrected stage according to the estimated misclassification probabilities and repeated the analysis of area variation stratified by simulated stage 1,000 times. We found 70% agreement between the Registry and Survey stage. This reallocation of the Registry cases by stage resulted in substantial variation in area-specific RERs across the simulated samples. Area variation in survival for localized colon and localized rectal cancer, which were previously statistically significant when classified using Registry stage, appeared no longer to be so. Misclassification of cancer registry stage can have an important impact on estimates of spatial variation in stage-specific colon and rectal cancer survival. If population-based cancer registry data are to be effectively used in evaluating and improving cancer care, the quality of the stage data may need to be improved.
International Journal of Cancer Vol. 122, Issue 2, p. 398-402