Open Access Research article

Using hospital discharge data to identify incident pregnancy-associated cancers: a validation study

Yuen Yi Cathy Lee1, Christine L Roberts1*, Jane Young2 and Timothy Dobbins2

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical and Population Perinatal Health Research, Kolling Institute of Medical Research, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

2 Cancer Epidemiology and Services Research Group, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013, 13:37  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-37

Published: 11 February 2013



Pregnancy-associated cancer is associated with maternal morbidities and adverse pregnancy outcomes, and is reported to be increasing. Hospital discharge data have the potential to provide timely information on cancer incidence, which is central to evaluation and improvement of clinical care for women. This study aimed to assess the validity of hospital data for identifying incident pregnancy-associated cancers compared with incident cancers from an Australian population-based statutory cancer registry.


Birth data from 2001–2008, comprised 470,277 women with 679,736 maternities, were linked to cancer registry and hospitalisation records to identify newly diagnosed cancers during pregnancy or within 12 months of delivery. Two hospital-identified cancer groups were examined; “index cancer hospitalisation” – first cancer admission per woman per pregnancy and “all cancer hospitalisations” –the total number of hospitalisations with a cancer diagnosis and women could have multiple hospitalisations during pregnancy. The latter replicates a scenario where identification of individuals is not possible and hospitalisations are used as the unit of analysis.


The incidence of pregnancy-associated cancer (according to cancer registry) was 145.4/100,000 maternities. Incidence of cancer was substantially over-estimated when using hospitalisations as the unit of analysis (incidence rate ratio, IRR 1.7) and under-estimated when using the individual (IRR 0.8). Overall, the sensitivity of “index cancer hospitalisation” was 60.4%, positive predictive value (PPV) 77.7%, specificity and negative predictive value both 100%. Melanoma ascertainment was only 36.1% and breast cancer 62.9%. For other common cancers sensitivities ranged from 72.1% to 78.6% and PPVs 56.4% to 87.3%.


Although hospital data provide another timely source of cancer identification, the validity is insufficient to obtain cancer incidence estimates for the obstetric population.

Cancer; Pregnancy; Incidence; Sensitivity; Positive predictive value; Validation