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OBJECTIVES: To identify patterns of age disparities in cancer survival, using colon and lung cancer as exemplars. DESIGN: Systematic review of the literature. DATA SOURCES: We searched Embase, MEDLINE, Scopus and Web of Science through 18 December 2020. ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: We retained all original articles published in English including patients with colon or lung cancer. Eligible studies were required to be population-based, report survival across several age groups (of which at least one was over the age of 65) and at least one other characteristic (eg, sex, treatment). DATA EXTRACTION AND SYNTHESIS: Two independent reviewers extracted data and assessed the quality of included studies against selected evaluation domains from the QUIPS tool, and items concerning statistical reporting. We evaluated age disparities using the absolute difference in survival or mortality rates between the middle-aged group and the oldest age group, or by describing survival curves. RESULTS: Out of 3047 references, we retained 59 studies (20 for colon, 34 for lung and 5 for both sites). Regardless of the cancer site, the included studies were highly heterogeneous and often of poor quality. The magnitude of age disparities in survival varied greatly by sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, stage at diagnosis, cancer site, and morphology, the number of nodes examined and treatment strategy. Although results were inconsistent for most characteristics, we consistently observed greater age disparities for women with lung cancer compared with men. Also, age disparities increased with more advanced stages for colon cancer and decreased with more advanced stages for lung cancer. CONCLUSIONS: Although age is one of the most important prognostic factors in cancer survival, age disparities in colon and lung cancer survival have so far been understudied in population-based research. Further studies are needed to better understand age disparities in colon and lung cancer survival. PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42020151402.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





adult oncology, epidemiology, oncology