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Comparison of Medicare Claims-based Proxy Measures of Poor Function and Associations With Treatment Receipt and Mortality in Older Colon Cancer Patients

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Multiple claims-based proxy measures of poor function have been developed to address confounding in observational studies of drug effects in older adults. We evaluated agreement between these measures and their associations with treatment receipt and mortality in a cohort of older colon cancer patients.


Medicare beneficiaries age 66+ diagnosed with stage II–III colon cancer were identified in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results-Medicare database (2004–2011). Poor function was operationalized by: (1) summing the total poor function indicators for each model; and (2) estimating predicted probabilities of poor function at diagnosis. Agreement was evaluated using Fleiss’ κ and Spearman’s correlation. Associations between proxy measures and: (1) laparoscopic versus open surgery; (2) chemotherapy versus none; (3) 5-fluorouracil (5FU)+oxaliplatin (FOLFOX) versus 5FU monotherapy; and (4) 1-year mortality were estimated using log-binomial regression, controlling for age, sex, stage, and comorbidity. Survival estimates were stratified by functional group, age, and comorbidity.


Among 29,687 eligible colon cancer patients, 67% were 75+ years and 45% had stage III disease. Concordance across the poor function indicator counts was moderate (κ: 0.64) and correlation of predicted probability measures varied (ρ: 0.21–0.74). Worse function was associated with lower chemotherapy and FOLFOX receipt, and higher 1-year mortality. Within age and comorbidity strata, poor function remained associated with mortality.


While agreement varied across the claims-based proxy measures, each demonstrated anticipated associations with treatment receipt and mortality independent of comorbidity. Claims-based comparative effectiveness studies in older populations should consider applying one of these models to improve confounding control.
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Keywords: Medicare; administrative claims; algorithm; colon cancer; frailty; poor function

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health 2: Department of Urology, School of Medicine 3: Division of Hematology/Oncology, School of Medicine & Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 4: Janssen Research and Development, Titusville, NJ 5: Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

Publication date: April 1, 2019

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