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Ageism and surgical treatment of breast cancer in Italian hospitals.

AIM: To determine if age is a factor influencing the type of breast cancer surgery (radical versus conservative) in Italy and to investigate the regional differences in breast cancer surgery clinical practice.

METHODS: Retrospective study is based on national hospital discharge records. The study draws on routinely collected data from hospital discharge records in Italy in 2010. The following exclusion criteria were applied: day hospital stays, patients younger than 17 years, males, patients without an ICD-9CM code indicating breast cancer and breast surgery, and repeated hospital admission of the same patient. Overall, 49,058 patient records were selected for the analysis.

RESULTS: The proportion of conservative breast cancer operations was 70.9%. A greater number of women younger than 70 had undergone a breast-conserving operation compared to older women. There were regional variations ranging from a minimum in Basilicata to a maximum in Val d'Aosta. Multivariate analysis revealed that older patients with lower clinical severity were more likely to have undergone a radical operation than younger women. In addition, radical surgery was approximately twice as likely to occur in a private hospital that performed at least 50 breast cancer operations annually than in a public hospital that performed <50 breast surgeries.

CONCLUSION: Notwithstanding increases in life expectancy and the lack of clinical evidence to support the use of age as a surrogate for co-morbid conditions and frailty, our data on breast cancer operations in Italy are consistent with the hypothesis suggesting the persistence of ageistic practice in the healthcare system.

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