Why do patients with cancer visit emergency departments? Results of a 2008 population study in North Carolina.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Emergency departments (EDs) in the United States are used by patients with cancer for disease or treatment-related problems and unrelated issues. The North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC DETECT) collects information about ED visits through a statewide database.

Patients and methods

After approval by the institutional review board, 2008 NC DETECT ED visit data were acquired and cancer-related visits were identified. Descriptive statistics and logistic regressions were performed. Of 4,190,911 ED visits in 2008, there were 37,760 ED visits by 27,644 patients with cancer.


Among patients, 77.2% had only one ED visit in 2008, the mean age was 64 years, and there were slightly more men than women. Among visits, the payor was Medicare for 52.4% and Medicaid for 12.1%. More than half the visits by patients with cancer occurred on weekends or evenings, and 44.9% occurred during normal hours. The top three chief complaints were related to pain, respiratory distress, and GI issues. Lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers were identified in 26.9%, 6.3%, 6%, and 7.7% of visits, respectively, with diagnosis. A total of 63.2% of visits resulted in hospital admittance. When controlling for sex, age, time of day, day of week, insurance, and diagnosis position, patients with lung cancer were more likely to be admitted than patients with other types of cancer.


To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to provide a population-based snapshot of ED visits by patients with cancer in North Carolina. Efforts that target clinical problems and specific populations may improve delivery of quality cancer care and avoid ED visits.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Mayer, DK; Travers, D; Wyss, A; Leak, A; Waller, A

Published Date

  • July 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 29 / 19

Start / End Page

  • 2683 - 2688

PubMed ID

  • 21606431

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3139372

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1527-7755

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0732-183X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1200/jco.2010.34.2816


  • eng