Background Improving the quality of cancer care and reducing preventable health system use are goals of increasing importance to health practitioners and policy makers. Emergency department (ED) visits are often cited as a source of preventable health system use, however, few studies have described the incidence of ED use by recently diagnosed cancer patients in population-based samples, and no study has addressed the full spectrum of cancer types. Objective To describe ED use by recently diagnosed cancer patients. Methods California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development data and the California Cancer Registry were used to describe ED use in the year after a cancer diagnosis (2009-2010). The incidence of ED use was tabulated by cancer type. Logistic regression and recycled predictions were used to examine ED use adjusting for confounding factors. Results Most ED visits (68%) occurred within 180 days of diagnosis. The incidence of ED use for all cancer types examined was 17% within 30 days, 35% within 180 days and 44% within 365 days of diagnosis. ED use varied by cancer type (5%-39% within 30 days of diagnosis; 14%-62% within 180 days; and 22%-69% within 365 days). Patterns of ED use by cancer type remained similar after accounting for demographic and socioeconomic factors. Limitations Those common to administrative and registry datasets. Specifically, we were unable to account for ED visits in relation to cancer treatment dates and comorbid conditions. Conclusions Cancer patients use EDs at higher rates than previously reported, with considerable variability by cancer type. Future research should examine reasons for ED visits by cancer type and identify predictors of ED use, including treatment and comorbid conditions.
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