Open Access Research article

Does comorbidity explain the ethnic inequalities in cervical cancer survival in New Zealand? A retrospective cohort study

Naomi Brewer1*, Barry Borman1, Diana Sarfati2, Mona Jeffreys3, Steven T Fleming4, Soo Cheng1 and Neil Pearce15

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, PO Box 756, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

2 Department of Public Health, University of Otago Wellington, PO Box 7373, Wellington 6242, New Zealand

3 Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, 39 Whatley Road, Bristol BS8 2PS, UK

4 Epidemiology, University of Kentucky College of Public Health, 121 Washington Avenue, Lexington, KY 40536-0003, USA

5 Department of Medical Statistics, Faculty of Epidemiology and Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:132  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-132

Published: 12 April 2011



There are large ethnic differences in cervical cancer survival in New Zealand that are only partly explained by stage at diagnosis. We investigated the association of comorbidity with cervical cancer survival, and whether comorbidity accounted for the previously observed ethnic differences in survival.


The study involved 1,594 cervical cancer cases registered during 1994-2005. Comorbidity was measured using hospital events data and was classified using the Elixhauser instrument; effects on survival of individual comorbid conditions from the Elixhauser instrument were also assessed. Cox regression was used to estimate adjusted cervical cancer mortality hazard ratios (HRs).


Comorbidity during the year before diagnosis was associated with cervical cancer-specific survival: those with an Elixhauser count of ≥3 (compared with a count of zero) had a HR of 2.17 (1.32-3.56). The HR per unit of Elixhauser count was 1.25 (1.11-1.40). However, adjustment for the Elixhauser instrument made no difference to the mortality HRs for Māori and Asian women (compared to 'Other' women), and made only a trivial difference to that for Pacific women. In contrast, concurrent adjustment for 12 individual comorbid conditions from the Elixhauser instrument reduced the Māori HR from 1.56 (1.19-2.05) to 1.44 (1.09-1.89), i.e. a reduction in the excess risk of 21%; and reduced the Pacific HR from 1.95 (1.21-3.13) to 1.62 (0.98-2.68), i.e. a reduction in the excess risk of 35%.


Comorbidity is associated with cervical cancer-specific survival in New Zealand, but accounts for only a moderate proportion of the ethnic differences in survival.