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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Medical Research Methodology 1/2018

Measuring colorectal cancer incidence: the performance of an algorithm using administrative health data

BMC Medical Research Methodology > Ausgabe 1/2018
Mamadou Diop, Erin C. Strumpf, Geetanjali D. Datta
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12874-018-0494-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Certain cancer case ascertainment methods used in Quebec and elsewhere are known to underestimate the burden of cancer, particularly for some subgroups. Algorithms using claims data are a low-cost option to improve the quality of cancer surveillance, but have not frequently been implemented at the population-level. Our objectives were to 1) develop a colorectal cancer (CRC) case ascertainment algorithm using population-level hospitalization and physician billing data, 2) validate the algorithm, and 3) describe the characteristics of cases.


We linked physician billing, hospitalization, and tumor registry data for 2,013,430 Montreal residents age 20+ (2000–2010). We compared the performance of three algorithms based on diagnosis and treatment codes from different data sources. We described identified cases according to age, sex, socioeconomic status, treatment patterns, site distribution, and time trends. All statistical tests were two-sided.


Our algorithm based on diagnosis and treatment codes identified 11,476 of the 12,933 incident CRC cases contained in the tumor registry as well as 2317 newly-captured cases. Our cases share similar overall time trends and site distributions to existing data, which increases our confidence in the algorithm. Our algorithm captured proportionally 35% more individuals age 50 and younger among CRC cases: 8.2% vs. 5.3%. The newly captured cases were also more likely to be living in socioeconomically advantaged areas.


Our algorithm provides a more complete picture of population-wide CRC incidence than existing case ascertainment methods. It could be used to estimate long-term incidence trends, aid in timely surveillance, and to inform interventions, in both Quebec and other jurisdictions.
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