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Keywords:

  • urinary bladder neoplasms;
  • recurrence;
  • progression;
  • bladder cancer mortality;
  • quality of healthcare

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  5. RESULTS
  6. DISCUSSION
  7. FUNDING SOURCES
  8. CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURE
  9. REFERENCES

BACKGROUND

Patients with bladder cancer are apt to develop multiple recurrences that require intervention. The recurrence, progression, and bladder cancer–related mortality rates were examined in a cohort of individuals with high-grade non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer.

METHODS

Using linked Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare data, subjects were identified who had a diagnosis of high-grade, non–muscle-invasive disease in 1992 to 2002 and who were followed until 2007. Multivariate competing-risks regression analyses were then used to examine recurrence, progression, and bladder cancer–related mortality rates.

RESULTS

Of 7410 subjects, 2897 (39.1%) experienced a recurrence without progression, 2449 (33.0%) experienced disease progression, of whom 981 succumbed to bladder cancer. Using competing-risks regression analysis, the 10-year recurrence, progression, and bladder cancer–related mortality rates were found to be 74.3%, 33.3%, and 12.3%, respectively. Stage T1 was the only variable associated with a higher rate of recurrence. Women, black race, undifferentiated grade, and stage Tis and T1 were associated with a higher risk of progression and mortality. Advanced age (≥ 70) was associated with a higher risk of bladder cancer–related mortality.

CONCLUSIONS

Nearly three-fourths of patients diagnosed with high-risk bladder cancer will recur, progress, or die within 10 years of their diagnosis. Even though most patients do not die of bladder cancer, the vast majority endures the morbidity of recurrence and progression of their cancer. Increasing efforts should be made to offer patients intravesical therapy with the goal of minimizing the incidence of recurrences. Furthermore, the high recurrence rate seen during the first 2 years of diagnosis warrants an intense surveillance schedule. Cancer 2013;119:3219–3227. © 2013 American Cancer Society.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  5. RESULTS
  6. DISCUSSION
  7. FUNDING SOURCES
  8. CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURE
  9. REFERENCES

Over the last 15 years, bladder cancer–related mortality has fallen by only 5%, whereas cancer-specific mortality rates have fallen more precipitously for prostate, breast, lung, and colon cancer.[1] This may in part be attributed to quality of care. Although overutilization of health care services and the attendant waste of scarce health care resources have generated much attention, underutilization of effective (and reimbursed) care has been overlooked. For instance, in patients with muscle-invasive disease who underwent radical cystectomy, 9% received neoadjuvant chemotherapy,[2] 35% were not treated within 3 months of diagnosis,[3] and among subjects enrolled in a randomized, controlled trial involving neoadjuvant chemotherapy and radical cystectomy, 45% did not receive a standard lymph node dissection.[4] Suboptimal bladder cancer care is not just limited to those patients with more advanced disease, but transcends stage and is just as prevalent in non–muscle-invasive disease. Madeb et al found that only 0.3% of subjects undergoing endoscopic resection received perioperative intravesical chemotherapy,[5] and Huang et al found that 58% of patients with high-grade, non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer did not receive even a single instillation of immunotherapy or chemotherapy within 1 year of diagnosis.[6] In fact, in a national, claims-based sample of 4545 cases with high-grade, non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer, we discovered that only 1 individual received all the follow-up surveillance and treatment measures as recommended by the American Urological Association (AUA) and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).[7] Moreover, patients who received at least half of the recommended surveillance and treatment measures enjoyed a statistically significant survival advantage, which is a process-outcomes link.[8]

In the face of our earlier findings about underutilization of care for patients with bladder cancer, some have posited that the surveillance and treatment strategies for patients with high-grade non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer, as prescribed by the national guidelines, are unnecessarily intensive, thus resulting in apparent noncompliance. Until now, the natural history of this disease in the United States has not been described in population-based data. In this context, we sought to more fully characterize the natural history of the disease, in terms of recurrence, progression, and bladder cancer–related mortality rates, using the linked Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare database. We hypothesized that the vast majority would have recurrences and require interventions.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  5. RESULTS
  6. DISCUSSION
  7. FUNDING SOURCES
  8. CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURE
  9. REFERENCES

Data Source

We used the linked SEER-Medicare database of the National Cancer Institute, which contains data on individuals aged 65 years and older, to identify patients with bladder cancer diagnosed in 1992 through 2002. SEER data are summarized in the Patient Entitlement and Diagnosis Summary File (PEDSF) and contains data on patient demographics, tumor characteristics, and follow-up information. The PEDSF was linked with 100% of Medicare claims from inpatient, outpatient, and national claims history files and was restricted to subjects who had Medicare Fee-for-Service coverage and for whom Medicare Parts A and B claims data were available for 12 months prior to diagnosis of bladder cancer.[9]

Study Population

The cohort consisted of patients at least 66 years of age with an incident diagnosis of nonmetastatic (N0M0), high-grade (poorly or undifferentiated), urothelial (histology codes 8120, 8130), non–muscle-invasive (Ta, Tis, T1) bladder cancer (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision [ICD-9] codes 188.0-188.9, 233.7) diagnosed between January 1, 1992, and December 31, 2002, for whom claims data were available through 2007. Although beneficiaries are eligible for Medicare coverage at age 65, we limited our cohort to those 66 or older to allow at least 1 year of eligibility in Medicare before bladder cancer diagnosis to ascertain comorbidity data. We restricted our analysis to those with known grade, stage, and histology.

Study Variables

From the PEDSF, we determined patient age (66-69 years, 70-74 years, 75-79 years, ≥ 80 years), sex, race/ethnicity (white, black, Hispanic, other), marital status (married, other), tumor grade (poorly differentiated, undifferentiated), T-stage (Ta, Tis, T1), and year of diagnosis. We imputed subject socioeconomic status by using 2000 US Census data to derive quartiles of ZIP code–level median household income (< $35,000, $35,000-$45,000, $45,001-$55,000, > $55,000) and percent of residents ≥ 25 years of age with at least 4 years of college education (categorical: < 15.0%, 15.0%-25.0%, 25.1%-35.0%, > 35.0%).[10] We used the modification by Klabunde et al of the Charlson Comorbidity index to quantify severity of preexisting comorbidities (0, 1, 2, ≥ 3).[11, 12] For each patient, we noted the provider and institution where the initial bladder cancer was diagnosed, using the Unique Physician Identifier Number (UPIN) and the corresponding institution (Medicare provider number). We defined recurrence as an inclusive state that includes: 1) recurrence without progression (receipt of a transurethral resection of a bladder tumor); 2) progression (receipt of radical cystectomy, radiotherapy, or systemic chemotherapy); or 3) bladder cancer–related death occurring > 90 days after diagnosis. Progression was defined as receipt of radical cystectomy, radiotherapy, systemic chemotherapy, or bladder cancer–related death occurring > 90 days after diagnosis.

Statistical Analysis

Because patients may die from noncancer causes, we used a maximum likelihood, competing-risks regression model as described by Fine and Gray to determine recurrence, progression, and bladder cancer–related mortality rates.[13] We performed competing-risks regression analyses to characterize the incidence of recurrence, progression, and cancer-specific mortality. For recurrence, we defined the event of interest as recurrence, progression, or bladder cancer–related death. For progression, we defined the event of interest as progression or bladder cancer–related death. For mortality, we defined the event of interest as bladder cancer–related death. The competing event was defined as non–cancer-related mortality for all scenarios: recurrence, progression, and cancer-specific mortality. This model adjusted for patient age, sex, race/ethnicity, marital status, ZIP code–level income and education, comorbidity, and tumor grade and stage. Estimates are reported as sub–hazard ratios (HRs) with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs). In addition, because patients treated by the same provider may have similar outcomes, we accounted for potential clustering by using the Huber–White sandwich variance estimator to the competing-risks regression analysis to yield more conservative confidence intervals. Although competing-risks regression analyses do not have a goodness-of-fit statistic, we used the Cox model as a proxy. We confirmed nonviolation of the proportional hazards assumption using “log-log” plots. A postestimation function after the competing-risks regression model was used to generate cumulative incidence curves of recurrence, progression, and bladder cancer–related mortality rates. This was especially used to derive recurrence, progression, and mortality rates for each stage (Ta, Tis, and T1) after adjusting for covariates. We conducted all analyses with STATA software (Stata, College Station, Tex). All statistical tests were 2-tailed, and the probability of a type I error was set at 0.05. The institutional review board at the University of California Los Angeles approved our study.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  5. RESULTS
  6. DISCUSSION
  7. FUNDING SOURCES
  8. CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURE
  9. REFERENCES

The vast majority of our cohort was younger than 80 years of age (61.3%), male (75.5%), white (91.0%), married (62.2%), without any comorbidity (65.7%), and diagnosed in the West (49.2%) with a poorly differentiated (78.1%) T1 tumor (57.5%) (Table 1). Of the 7410 subjects, 3828 (51.7%) died of all causes, whereas 981 (13.2%) died of bladder cancer (Fig. 1). Moreover, 2449 (33.1%) progressed and an additional 2897 (39.1%) recurred without progression. Therefore, 5346 (72.2%) recurred, progressed, or died of bladder cancer. Only 2064 (27.8%) did not recur, progress, or die of bladder cancer.

Table 1. Cohort Characteristics (N = 7410)
VariablesDistribution%
Age group, y  
66-6998513.3%
70-74173123.4%
75-79182524.6%
≥80286938.7%
Sex  
Male559775.5%
Female181324.5%
Race/ethnicity  
White674291.0%
Black2353.2%
Hispanic1882.5%
Other2453.3%
Marital status  
Other280437.8%
Married460662.2%
Charlson score  
0486865.7%
1163522.1%
25877.9%
≥33204.3%
% with ≥4 years of college education  
<15%162722.0%
15%-25%190625.7%
25%-35%160821.7%
>35%226930.6%
Median household income  
<$35,000130317.6%
$35,000-$45,000177023.9%
$45,000-$55,000189325.5%
>$55,000244433.0%
Region  
West364349.2%
Midwest154120.8%
South7069.5%
Northeast152020.5%
Institution type  
Nonacademic non–cancer center516769.7%
Academic non–cancer center161421.8%
Academic cancer center1652.2%
Unknown4646.3%
Grade  
Poorly differentiated578578.1%
Undifferentiated162521.9%
Stage  
Ta239832.3%
Tis75410.2%
T1425857.5%
image

Figure 1. Schema shows morbidity among our cohort of patients with high-grade non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer.

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Because competing causes of death may have precluded some patients (the elderly, the sick, or the poor) from developing recurrence of their disease, we sought to determine the cumulative incidence of recurrence, progression, or cause-specific mortality using multivariate competing-risks regression analysis. The incidence of recurrence, progression, and cause-specific mortality is depicted in Figure 2. The 2-, 5-, and 10-year recurrence rates were 61.1%, 69.5%, and 74.3%, respectively. The 2-, 5-, and 10-year progression rates were 12.8%, 22.8%, and 33.3%, respectively. The 2-, 5-, and 10-year cause-specific mortality rates were 6.5%, 10.2%, and 12.3%, respectively.

image

Figure 2. Graph shows results of competing-risks regression analysis for recurrence, progression, and cause-specific mortality for bladder cancer.

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On multivariate competing-risks regression analysis, only stage T1 was associated with a higher hazard of bladder cancer recurrence (HR = 1.22; 95% CI = 1.15-1.30) than those with Ta disease (Table 2). Patients with T1 disease had a 7% higher absolute risk of recurring at each time interval. Patient sociodemographics and socioeconomic status, stage Tis, and higher grade were not statistically significant predictors of recurrence.

Table 2. Multivariate Competing-Risks Regression Analysis With 2-, 5-, and 10-Year Recurrence Rates
 Hazard Ratio (95%Confidence interval)Recurrence 
Characteristic2-y5-y10-yP
Overall 61.1%69.5%74.3% 
Age group, y     
66-691.00 (Referent)61.7%70.1%74.9%
70-741.00 (0.91-1.10)61.7%70.1%74.9%.98
75-791.03 (0.94-1.13)62.7%71.1%75.8%.55
≥800.94 (0.86-1.03)59.4%67.8%72.7%.16
Sex     
Male1.00 (Referent)61.0%69.4%74.2%
Female1.01 (0.94-1.08)61.3%69.7%74.5%.81
Race/ethnicity     
White1.00 (Referent)61.1%69.5%74.3%
Black1.05 (0.89-1.23)62.8%71.2%75.9%.56
Hispanic1.14 (0.97-1.34)66.0%74.2%78.8%.11
Other0.87 (0.74-1.02)55.9%64.3%69.2%.08
Marital status     
Not Married1.00 (Referent)61.1%69.5%74.2%
Married1.00 (0.94-1.06)61.1%69.5%74.3%.96
Charlson score     
01.00 (Referent)60.8%69.2%74.0%
11.06 (0.99-1.13)63.0%71.4%76.1%.08
20.91 (0.81-1.01)57.3%65.7%70.6%.08
≥31.03 (0.90-1.18)62.0%70.4%75.1%.65
% with Bachelor's degree     
<15%1.00 (Referent)59.6%68.0%72.9%
15%-25%1.08 (0.99-1.17)62.4%70.8%75.5%.07
25%-35%1.05 (0.95-1.15)61.3%69.7%74.5%.34
>35%1.04 (0.94-1.14)60.9%69.3%74.1%.49
Median household income     
<$35,0001.00 (Referent)62.1%70.5%75.2%
$35,000-$45,0000.96 (0.87-1.05)60.6%69.0%73.8%.38
$45,001-$55,0000.97 (0.87-1.06)60.8%69.2%74.0%.48
>$55,0000.97 (0.88-1.08)61.1%69.5%74.3%.62
Grade     
Poorly differentiated1.00 (Referent)61.0%69.4%74.2%
Undifferentiated1.01 (0.94-1.08)61.3%69.7%74.5%.79
Stage     
Ta1.00 (Referent)56.8%65.2%70.1%
Tis1.01 (0.92-1.12)57.3%65.7%70.6%.79
T11.22 (1.15-1.30)64.2%72.5%77.2%<.01

We found that advancing age (≥ 70) was associated with a statistically significant lower hazard of progression than those < 70 years of age (Table 3). Patients 80 years of age or older had a lower absolute incidence of progression (4.5% lower at 2 years, 7.4% lower at 5 years, and 10.0% lower at 10 years) than patients younger than 70. Women (HR = 1.23; 95% CI = 1.12-1.36) and black subjects (HR = 1.37; 95% CI = 1.11-1.68) had a higher hazard of progression than men and white subjects, respectively. At 2, 5, and 10 years, women had a 2.6%, 4.3%, and 5.8%, respectively, higher incidence of progression than men. Black subjects had a 4.2%, 6.9%, and 9.2%, respectively, higher incidence of progression than whites. Patients with undifferentiated grade (HR = 1.24; 95% CI = 1.13-1.19), and stage Tis (HR = 1.64; 95% CI = 1.39-1.93) and T1 (HR = 2.30; 95% CI = 2.07-2.55) tumors had a higher hazard of progression than those with poorly differentiated and stage Ta tumors, respectively. Patients with T1 tumors had an absolute increase of 9.2%, 15.4%, and 21.0% in the incidence of progression at 2, 5, and 10 years, respectively, after diagnosis than patients with Ta tumors.

Table 3. Multivariate Competing-Risks Regression Analysis With 2-, 5-, and 10-Year Progression Rates
 Hazard Ratio (95%Confidence interval)Progression 
Characteristic2-y5-y10-yP
Overall 12.8%22.8%33.3% 
Age group,y     
66-691.00 (Referent)15.7%27.4%39.5%
70-740.86 (0.76-0.98)13.7%24.2%35.1%.02
75-790.84 (0.74-0.96)13.4%23.7%34.6%.01
≥800.70 (0.61-0.79)11.2%20.0%29.5%<.01
Sex     
Male1.00 (Referent)12.2%21.8%31.9%
Female1.23 (1.12-1.36)14.8%26.1%37.7%<.01
Race/ethnicity     
White1.00 (Referent)12.8%22.7%33.1%
Black1.37 (1.11-1.68)17.0%29.6%42.3%<.01
Hispanic1.01 (0.78-1.31)12.9%22.9%33.5%.92
Other0.85 (0.68-1.07)11.0%19.7%29.1%.17
Marital status     
Not married1.00 (Referent)12.3%22.0%32.2%
Married1.07 (0.97-1.17)13.1%23.2%33.9%.19
Charlson score     
01.00 (Referent)13.1%23.2%33.9%
10.97 (0.88-1.08)12.8%22.7%33.2%.61
20.90 (0.76-1.06)11.8%21.1%31.0%.20
≥30.81 (0.64-1.01)10.7%19.2%28.4%.06
% with Bachelor's degree     
<15%1.00 (Referent)12.2%21.7%31.9%
15%-25%1.12 (0.98-1.27)13.6%24.0%34.9%.08
25%-35%1.11 (0.96-1.28)13.4%23.8%34.6%.17
>35%1.00 (0.86-1.18)12.2%21.8%32.0%.96
Median household income     
<$35,0001.00 (Referent)12.9%22.9%33.5%
$35,000-$45,0000.97 (0.84-1.12)12.6%22.4%32.8%.72
$45,001-$55,0000.99 (0.96-1.28)12.8%22.6%33.1%.86
>$55,0001.00 (0.85-1.19)13.0%23.0%33.6%.95
Grade     
Poorly differentiated1.00 (Referent)12.3%21.8%32.0%
Undifferentiated1.24 (1.13-1.19)15.0%26.3%38.0%<.01
Stage     
Ta1.00 (Referent)7.8%14.1%21.2%
Tis1.64 (1.39-1.93)12.4%22.0%32.3%<.01
T12.30 (2.07-2.55)17.0%29.5%42.2%<.01

We found that advancing age (≥ 75) was associated with a statistically significant higher hazard of dying of bladder cancer than those < 70 years of age (Table 4). Patients 80 years of age or older had a higher absolute incidence of dying of bladder cancer (3.5% at 2 years, 5.4% at 5 years, and 6.5% at 10 years) than patients younger than 70 years. Women (HR = 1.55; 95% CI = 1.34-1.81) as well as black (HR = 1.71; 95% CI = 1.27-2.30) and Hispanic subjects (HR = 1.46; 95% CI = 1.03-2.09) had a higher hazard of dying of bladder cancer than did men and whites, respectively. Patients with undifferentiated grade (HR = 1.25; 95% CI = 1.08-1.45), Tis (HR = 2.11; 95% CI = 1.57-2.78) and T1 (HR = 3.06; 95% CI = 2.54-3.69) tumors had a higher hazard of dying of bladder cancer than those with poorly differentiated and stage Ta tumors, respectively. Patients with T1 tumors had an absolute increase of 6.3%, 9.7%, and 11.6% in the incidence of dying of bladder cancer at 2, 5, and 10 years over that of patients with Ta tumors.

Table 4. Multivariate Competing-Risks Regression Analysis With 2-, 5-, and 10-Year Cancer-Specific Mortality Rates
 Hazard Ratio (95%Confidence interval)Mortality 
Characteristic2-y5-y10-yP
Overall 6.5%10.2%12.3% 
Age group, y     
66-691.00 (Referent)4.9%7.8%9.4%
70-741.03 (0.79-1.33)5.0%8.0%9.7%.84
75-791.27 (1.00-1.62)6.2%9.8%11.9%.05
≥801.75 (1.39-2.20)8.4%13.2%15.9%<.01
Sex     
Male1.00 (Referent)5.8%9.2%11.1%
Female1.55 (1.34-1.81)8.9%13.9%16.8%<.01
Race/ethnicity     
White1.00 (Referent)6.4%10.0%12.2%
Black1.71 (1.27-2.30)10.6%16.5%19.9%<.01
Hispanic1.46 (1.03-2.09)9.2%14.4%17.3%.03
Other0.72 (0.48-1.09)4.6%7.4%8.9%.12
Marital status     
Not married1.00 (Referent)6.7%10.6%12.8%
Married0.93 (0.81-1.08)6.3%10.0%12.0%.37
Charlson score     
01.00 (Referent)6.2%9.8%11.9%
11.13 (0.96-1.33)7.0%11.0%13.3%.14
21.08 (0.85-1.38)6.7%10.6%12.8%.53
≥31.19 (0.87-1.61)7.3%11.5%13.9%.27
% with Bachelor's degree     
<15%1.00 (Referent)5.9%9.3%11.2%
15-25%1.10 (0.89-1.36)6.4%10.2%12.3%.36
25-35%1.26 (1.01-1.58)7.3%11.6%14.0%.04
>35%1.08 (0.84-1.39)6.3%10.0%12.1%.55
Median household income     
<$35,0001.00 (Referent)6.7%10.6%12.9%
$35,000-$45,0001.00 (0.81-1.23)6.7%10.6%12.9%.99
$45,001-$55,0000.98 (0.78-1.24)6.6%10.5%12.7%.88
>$55,0000.88 (0.68-1.14)6.0%9.5%11.5%.36
Grade     
Poorly differentiated1.00 (Referent)6.1%9.7%11.8%
Undifferentiated1.25 (1.08-1.45)7.7%12.1%14.6%<.01
Stage     
Ta1.00 (Referent)3.2%5.1%6.2%
Tis2.11 (1.57-2.78)6.6%10.4%12.6%<.01
T13.06 (2.54-3.69)9.5%14.8%17.8%<.01

DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  5. RESULTS
  6. DISCUSSION
  7. FUNDING SOURCES
  8. CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURE
  9. REFERENCES

Our study has 3 principal findings. First, although we are not the first to report on the recurrence and progression rates in patients with non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer, this is the first study to examine the natural history of the disease from a population standpoint. We found that nearly three-fourths of patients with high-grade non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer will develop a recurrence at 10 years: 41% will recur without progression, whereas an additional 33% will progress to myoinvasive disease. Furthermore, among those who progress, 40% (981 of 2449 patients) will die of bladder cancer. The dismal prognosis of non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer progressing to myoinvasive disease highlights the need to intensely survey this high-risk population at an early point. However, in a previous analysis of 4545 patients with high-grade non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer, we discovered that 62.5% of patients did not undergo at least 1 cystoscopy, 1 cytology analysis, and 1 instillation of immunotherapy during the initial 2 years after diagnosis.[7]

Our second important finding is that although sex and race do not correlate with recurrence rates, they are significantly associated with progression and cause-specific mortality rates. Women and black subjects had a higher likelihood of progressing and ultimately dying of bladder cancer than did men and white subjects, respectively. Although Hispanic subjects had a higher risk of dying of bladder cancer, they did not have a corresponding increase in aggressive treatment. Sociodemographic variation in aggressive treatment may in part be attributed to the growing misutilization of immunotherapy among patients who frequently recur or ultimately progress to myoinvasive disease.[14, 15] In addition, advancing age was associated with a higher rate of bladder cancer mortality. The higher cancer-specific mortality rate among the elderly may be a result of either quality of care or response (or lack thereof) to our current treatments. For the former factor, we have previously demonstrated that the elderly (those 80 years of age and older) were less likely to undergo the recommended number of surveillance (cytology and imaging) and treatment (immunotherapy) measures.[7] Although provider-level variation is a significant predictor of noncompliance for some measures (eg, cytology and immunotherapy), we cannot ignore patient-level factors in this at-risk population; noncompliance may be due to their poor performance status, mobility, lack of social support, and access to transportation. Asking octogenarians to come in for weekly intravesical instillations of immunotherapy may be futile if arrangements are not made ahead of time. As to the latter, Joudi et al has demonstrated a lower response rate to immunotherapy and worsened recurrence-free survival among the elderly.[16] Hence, we may need to incorporate multiagent and sequential intravesical chemotherapy for the elderly.[17] It is therefore not surprising that we found the elderly progressing to invasive disease, but due to their age and health they are not offered aggressive treatment (eg, cystectomy, radiotherapy, or systemic chemotherapy), and hence have a higher rate of bladder cancer–related mortality. Some may contend that even among the elderly, aggressive treatment for invasive disease is associated with improved survival.[18, 19] However, there is a dearth of data quantifying the potential benefit of aggressive treatment such as a radical cystectomy among the elderly for recurrent non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer. In other words, should we expose all patients with recurrent non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer, even the elderly with significant comorbidity, to aggressive treatment?

Third, the integration of treatment codes in a competing-risks regression analysis serves as an ideal model for future studies to quantify recurrence and progression rates of bladder cancer. Our a priori definitions of recurrence and progression are commensurate with other single-institution series describing 48% to 80% recurrence and 18% to 53% progression rates.[20-28] In fact our 5-year recurrence (69%), progression (23%), and mortality (10%) rates for high-grade cancers are very similar to the largest single-institution series (1529 patients) that reported recurrence, progression, and mortality rates of 61%, 19%, and 10%, respectively.[28]

Although our sample size is large, our study has methodological limitations. As with any observational study, omitted-variable bias may impact aggressive treatment rates, and thus the imputed progression rates. Some may contend that our 5-year recurrence and progression rates are significantly higher than the 48% long-term recurrence and 11% long-term progression rates reported from a combined analysis of 7 European Organization for Research and Treatment Cancer (EORTC) trials.[29] We attribute this to differences in cohort characteristics (all grades versus high-grade). If one examines the 2 highest risk groups in the EORTC trial, their averaged 5-year recurrence and progression rates are 70% and 31%, similar to the 69% and 23% in our study. Our lower 5-year progression rate may in part be attributed to inherent differences in the way European participants enrolled in clinical trials are treated when compared with a SEER-Medicare population: 78% of the European patients received early adjuvant intravesical immunotherapy, whereas only 30% of our cohort received at least 1 instillation. Furthermore, our definition of progression hinges on treatment codes (radical cystectomy, radiotherapy, and systemic chemotherapy), and it is not unreasonable to deduce that the 8% difference in 5-year progression rates may in part be attributed to level of undertreatment in the SEER-Medicare population as reported by others.[2, 3] Despite the lack of granularity in measuring recurrence and progression rates, our estimates are well within the range of other studies.

A second limitation was the utility of treatment codes to define progression instead of stage-based progression. For instance, a patient who progresses from a unifocal Ta tumor to multifocal T1 disease that was subsequently treated with immunotherapy does not meet the definition of progression. Similarly, a patient with T1 disease who fails immunotherapy and ultimately develops myoinvasive disease treated with radical transurethral resection does not meet the definition of progression. This incongruity is especially evident among those 80 years of age and older, who had a lower incidence of progression yet a higher incidence of bladder cancer death. This is more clearly seen with the derived mortality-to-progression ratio of patients: This ratio increases from 0.24 in the 66- to 69-year age group, to 0.28 in the 70- to 74-year age group to 0.34 in the 75- to 79-year age group, and to 0.54 among those ≥ 80. This suggests that the elderly are likely being undertreated for tumor progression, hence the lower claims-based definition of “progression.” All the while, the risk of dying of bladder cancer increases with advancing age.

In an ideal setting, we would be able to conduct this study with pathologic data to confirm true tumor progression. However, SEER and the local cancer registries do not capture or record pathologic data beyond 6 months of diagnosis. Therefore, we must rely on the behavior of high-grade bladder cancer (to mandate aggressive treatment or cancer-related mortality) and claims data to quantify recurrence and progression. Although we acknowledge this limitation, it does not detract from the significance of our findings for 2 reasons. One is that if elderly patients were truly progressing to myoinvasive or extravesical disease, this would mean that they were undergoing endoscopic resections at a higher rate, which they are not. In addition, the true measure of tumor progression (myoinvasive disease and extravesical extension) may not be reliably captured with endoscopic resections. Instead, we would have to examine the cystectomy specimen or rely on imaging for clinical progression to ascertain pathological progression. If a patient undergoes a cystectomy (or any aggressive treatment), then we would capture that progression. If they do not, we can rely on the nature of untreated high-grade disease, which if left untreated will likely result in bladder cancer death. And if a patient dies of another cause, our competing-risks regression model accounts for competing risks of death. Another limitation is that the findings of the current study may not be generalizable to those patients who are aged < 65 years or who have alternative forms of insurance coverage. However, 75% of all patients with bladder cancer are aged ≥ 65 years, and the vast majority of the elderly have Medicare benefits.[30, 31] Finally, our definition of recurrence (endoscopic resection or biopsy) may not be entirely accurate. Some endoscopic procedures may be performed for suspicious lesions that turn out to be benign. Alternatively, some patients may have had small asymptomatic papillary lesions that are not treated. However, we anticipate that the majority of patients with high-grade cancer who develop a recurrence will undoubtedly be treated or ultimately progress and die of their disease, if left untreated.

Despite these limitations, our findings serve to alert patients and providers to the significant morbidity of high-grade bladder cancer. Also, when these lesions progress to invasive disease, patients are at significant risk of bladder cancer–related death. It is for this reason that use of intravesical therapy to minimize recurrences and progression to invasive disease, in combination with an intense surveillance schedule, are outlined in the AUA and NCCN guidelines. However, the expectation that practice patterns will change overnight because of our findings or publication of an update from the AUA or NCCN is naive. Overcoming noncompliance with guideline-recommended care is likely to be a challenge for a number of reasons, some modifiable and some not. As to the former, we believe that quality improvement initiatives, such as the Urological Surgical Quality Collaborative or the Surgical Clinical Outcomes Assessment Program developed by researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Washington, respectively, would be needed to see substantive change in practice patterns.[32-34] These initiatives were developed with the understanding that in order to improve quality, health services researchers must first qualitatively describe logistical factors that limit access to evidence-based care. In addition, community practices, where most urological care is provided, may not be conducive to the most aggressive treatment options; rather, patients may benefit from referral to academic settings.[35] Whereas regionalization to high-volume settings may improve quality of care, this practice comes at the expense of impeding access and timely treatment.

Conclusions

Even though most patients with high-grade, non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer do not die of their disease, the vast majority endures the morbidity of recurrence and progression their disease. Increasing efforts should be made to offer patients intravesical therapy with the goal of minimizing the incidence of recurrences. Furthermore, the high recurrence rate during the first 2 years of diagnosis warrants an intense surveillance schedule.

FUNDING SOURCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  5. RESULTS
  6. DISCUSSION
  7. FUNDING SOURCES
  8. CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURE
  9. REFERENCES

This work was supported by the American Cancer Society (117496-PF-09-147-01-CPHPS; principal investigator: Dr. Chamie); Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Extramural (1 F32 CA144461-01; principal investigator: Dr. Chamie); Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Seed Grant (principal investigator: Dr. Chamie); National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program (principal investigator: Dr. Chamie); and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (N01-DK-1-2460; principal investigator: Dr. Litwin).

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  5. RESULTS
  6. DISCUSSION
  7. FUNDING SOURCES
  8. CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURE
  9. REFERENCES