Natural disasters such as hurricanes cause delays in radiotherapy delivery for non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that ultimately translate to poorer outcomes, suggests a retrospective cohort study.

“Radiotherapy is particularly vulnerable because it requires dependable electrical power and daily treatment,” lead investigator Leticia M. Nogueira, PhD, Surveillance and Health Services Research Program, American Cancer Society, and colleagues noted. “Disruptions are especially concerning for patients undergoing treatment for locally advanced ... NSCLC because treatment delays as little as 2 days negatively affect survival.”

The investigators used the National Cancer Database to identify patients receiving definitive radiotherapy for nonoperative locally advanced NSCLC between 2004 and 2014 who had at least 1 year of follow-up for vital status.

Each patient undergoing radiotherapy when a hurricane disaster was declared for their facility’s area was matched through propensity scoring with a patient treated during a declaration-free period having similar start month, sex, age, stage, nodal status, and income. Analyses compared 1,734 exposed patients with 1,734 unexposed patients.

Study results reported in JAMA showed that 101 hurricane disaster declarations were made during the study period, and they lasted from 1 day to 69 days. The radiation treatment duration was about 21 days (45%) longer for patients exposed to these declarations than for unexposed counterparts (66.9 vs. 46.2 days; P less than .001).

Over a median follow-up of 15 months, exposed patients were more likely to die (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.19; P = .001). Moreover, risk generally rose with the duration of the declaration, peaking for patients exposed to those lasting 27 days (adjusted relative risk, 1.27).

“Because data on other potentially explanatory factors are lacking, the relative contribution of treatment delay to the observed association cannot be quantified. However, treatment delay is one of the few hurricane-related disruptions that can be prevented,” Dr. Nogueira and colleagues maintain.

“Because no recommended correction for radiotherapy delays exists ... strategies for identifying patients, arranging for transferring treatment, and eliminating patient out-of-network insurance charges should be considered in disaster mitigation planning,” they recommend.

Dr. Nogueira disclosed no relevant conflicts of interest. The investigators conducted the study as part of the in-tramural research program at the American Cancer Society or contributed their time.

SOURCE: Nogueira LM et al. JAMA. 2019 Jul 16;322(3):269-71.