Women With Breast Cancer in the Veterans Health Administration: Demographics, Breast Cancer Characteristics, and Trends

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An increasing number of women are being cared for within the Veterans Health Administration (VA). However, the demographics and trends of women with breast cancer at the VA has not been documented. We describe the demographics and breast cancer characteristics of the 4445 women enrolled in the VA and reported to the Department of Veterans Affairs Central Cancer Registry diagnosed with breast cancer from 1995 to 2012. The cases of breast cancer per year increased over time to 365 in 2012. Black women represented only 16% of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the VA in 1995–1999 but increased to 25% by 2010–2012 (P<0.001). The median age at diagnosis in 1995–1999 was 58.4 and decreased to 56.8 by 2010–2012 (P<0.02). The fraction of breast cancers that were node negative was 45% in 1995–1999 and increased to 64% in 2010–2012; correspondingly, women presented at an earlier stage in more recent years (P<0.001). Urban women with breast cancer cared for within the VA are more likely to be younger (P=0.04) and nonwhite (P<0.001) compared with rural women, but the breast tumor characteristics appear similar. Oncology physicians at the VA must be prepared to care for breast cancer among women as the number of cases is growing. With only 365 women diagnosed with breast cancer at the VA as per year 2012 and nearly 150 treating VA facilities, the number of breast cancer patients seen by a particular physician could be quite low, and this fact suggests a need for an evaluation of the quality and outcomes of breast cancer care at the VA.

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