A systematic review of geographical variation in access to chemotherapy

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Rising cancer incidence, the cost of cancer pharmaceuticals and the introduction of the Cancer Drugs Fund in England, but not other United Kingdom(UK) countries means evidence of ‘postcode prescribing’ in cancer is important. There have been no systematic reviews considering access to cancer drugs by geographical characteristics in the UK.

Studies describing receipt of cancer drugs, according to healthcare boundaries (e.g. cancer network [UK]) were identified through a systematic search of electronic databases and grey literature. Due to study heterogeneity a meta-analysis was not possible and a narrative synthesis was performed.

8,780 unique studies were identified and twenty-six included following a systematic search last updated in 2015. The majority of papers demonstrated substantial variability in the likelihood of receiving chemotherapy between hospitals, health authorities, cancer networks and UK countries (England and Wales). After case-mix adjustment, there was up to a 4–5 fold difference in chemotherapy utilisation between the highest and lowest prescribing cancer networks. There was no strong evidence that rurality or distance travelled were associated with the likelihood of receiving chemotherapy and conflicting evidence for an effect of travel time.

Considerable variation in chemotherapy prescribing between healthcare boundaries has been identified. The absence of associations with natural geographical characteristics (e.g. rurality) and receipt of chemotherapy suggests that local treatment habits, capacity and policy are more influential.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2015

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Surgical Research


  • Cancer
  • Drugs
  • Chemotherapy
  • Variation
  • Geography
  • Health inequalities
  • Systematic review


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