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December 2017

Using the National Cancer Database for Outcomes Research: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Section of Thoracic Surgery, Department of Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 2American College of Surgeons, National Cancer Database, Commission on Cancer, Chicago, Illinois
  • 3American Joint Committee on Cancer, Chicago, Illinois
  • 4Department of Surgery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • 5Division of Research and Optimal Patient Care, American College of Surgeons, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA Oncol. 2017;3(12):1722-1728. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.6905

Importance  The National Cancer Database (NCDB), a joint quality improvement initiative of the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and the American Cancer Society, has created a shared research file that has changed the study of cancer care in the United States. A thorough understanding of the nuances, strengths, and limitations of the database by both readers and investigators is of critical importance. This review describes the use of the NCDB to study cancer care, with a focus on the advantages of using the database and important considerations that affect the interpretation of NCDB studies.

Observations  The NCDB is one of the largest cancer registries in the world and has rapidly become one of the most commonly used data resources to study the care of cancer in the United States. The NCDB paints a comprehensive picture of cancer care, including a number of less commonly available details that enable subtle nuances of treatment to be studied. On the other hand, several potentially important patient and treatment attributes are not collected in the NCDB, which may affect the extent to which comparisons can be adjusted. Finally, the NCDB has undergone several significant changes during the past decade that may affect its completeness and the types of available data.

Conclusions and Relevance  The NCDB offers a critically important perspective on cancer care in the United States. To capitalize on its strengths and adjust for its limitations, investigators and their audiences should familiarize themselves with the advantages and shortcomings of the NCDB, as well as its evolution over time.

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