To systematically assess the evidence for variations in outcomes at each step along the breast cancer continuum of care for Australian women by residential location.
Systematic searches of peer-reviewed articles in English published from 1 January 1990 to 24 November 2017 using PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL and Informit databases. Inclusion criteria were: population was adult female patients with breast cancer; Australian setting; outcome measure was survival, patient or tumour characteristics, screening rates or frequencies, clinical management, patterns of initial care or post-treatment follow-up with analysis by residential location or studies involving non-metropolitan women only. Included studies were critically appraised using a modified Newcastle–Ottawa Scale.
Seventy-four quantitative studies met the inclusion criteria. Around 59% were considered high quality, 34% moderate and 7% low. No eligible studies examining treatment choices or post-treatment follow-up were identified. Non-metropolitan women consistently had poorer survival, with most of this differential being attributed to more advanced disease at diagnosis, treatment-related factors and socioeconomic disadvantage. Compared with metropolitan women, non-metropolitan women were more likely to live in disadvantaged areas and had differing clinical management and patterns of care. However, findings regarding geographical variations in tumour characteristics or diagnostic outcomes were inconsistent.
A general pattern of poorer survival and variations in clinical management for Australian female patients with breast cancer from non-metropolitan areas was evident. However, the wide variability in data sources, measures, study quality, time periods and geographical classification made direct comparisons across studies challenging. The review highlighted the need to promote standardisation of geographical classifications and increased comparability of data systems. It also identified key gaps in the existing literature including a lack of studies on advanced breast cancer, geographical variations in treatment choices from the perspective of patients and post-treatment follow-up.