Open Access Open Badges Research article

Epidemiology and outcomes of previously undiagnosed diabetes in older women with breast cancer: an observational cohort study based on SEER-Medicare

Robert I Griffiths123*, Mark D Danese1, Michelle L Gleeson1 and José M Valderas3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, Outcomes Insights, Inc, 340 N. Westlake Blvd, Suite 200, Westlake Village, CA 91362, USA

2 Division of General Internal Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

3 Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:613  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-613

Published: 22 December 2012



In breast cancer, diabetes diagnosed prior to cancer (previously diagnosed) is associated with advanced cancer stage and increased mortality. However, in the general population, 40% of diabetes is undiagnosed until glucose testing, and evidence suggests one consequence of increased evaluation and management around breast cancer diagnosis is the increased detection of previously undiagnosed diabetes. Biological factors – for instance, higher insulin levels due to untreated disease - and others underlying the association between previously diagnosed diabetes and breast cancer could differ in those whose diabetes remains undiagnosed until cancer. Our objectives were to identify factors associated with previously undiagnosed diabetes in breast cancer, and to examine associations between previously undiagnosed diabetes and cancer stage, treatment patterns, and mortality.


Using Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results-Medicare, we identified women diagnosed with breast cancer and diabetes between 01/2001 and 12/2005. Diabetes was classified as previously diagnosed if it was identified within Medicare claims between 24 and 4 months before cancer diagnosis, and previously undiagnosed if it was identified from 3 months before to ≤ 3 months after cancer. Patients were followed until 12/2007 or death, whichever came first. Multivariate analyses were performed to examine risk factors for previously undiagnosed diabetes and associations between undiagnosed (compared to previously diagnosed) diabetes, cancer stage, treatment, and mortality.


Of 2,418 patients, 634 (26%) had previously undiagnosed diabetes; the remainder had previously diagnosed diabetes. The mean age was 77.8 years, and 49.4% were diagnosed with in situ or stage I disease. Age > 80 years (40% of the cohort) and limited health system contact (primary care physician and/or preventive services) prior to cancer were associated with higher adjusted odds of previously undiagnosed diabetes. Previously undiagnosed diabetes was associated with higher adjusted odds of advanced stage (III/IV) cancer (Odds Ratio = 1.37: 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 1.05 – 1.80; P = 0.02), and a higher adjusted mortality rate due to causes other than cancer (Hazard Ratio = 1.29; 95% CI 1.02 – 1.63; P = 0.03).


In breast cancer, previously undiagnosed diabetes is associated with advanced stage cancer and increased mortality. Identifying biological factors would require further investigation.

Breast cancer; Diabetes; Previously undiagnosed; Risk factors; Stage; Mortality; Survival