Underlying reasons for post-mortem diagnosed lung cancer cases – A robust retrospective comparative study from Hungary (HULC study)

Zoltán Kiss, Krisztina Bogos, Lilla Tamási, Gyula Ostoros, Veronika Müller, Nóra Bittner, Veronika Sárosi, Aladár Vastag, Kata Knollmajer, Máté Várnai, Krisztina Kovács, Andrea Berta, István Köveskuti, Eugenia Karamousouli, György Rokszin, Zsolt Abonyi-Tóth, Zsófia Barcza, István Kenessey, András Weber, Péter Nagy, Petra Freyler-Fadgyas, Miklós Szócska, Péter Szegner, Lászlóné Hilbert, Gabriella Branyiczkiné Géczy, György Surján, Judit Moldvay, Zoltán Vokó, Gabriella Gálffy and Zoltán Polányi

Objective: The Hungarian Undiagnosed Lung Cancer (HULC) study aimed to explore the potential reasons for missed LC (lung cancer) diagnosis by comparing healthcare and socio-economic data among patients with post-mortem diagnosed LC with those who were diagnosed with LC during their lives.

Methods: This nationwide, retrospective study used the databases of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (HCSO) and National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) to identify patients who died between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019 and were diagnosed with lung cancer post-mortem (population A) or during their lifetime (population B). Patient characteristics, socio-economic factors, and healthcare resource utilization (HCRU) data were compared between the diagnosed and undiagnosed patient population.

Results: During the study period, 8,435 patients were identified from the HCSO database with LC as the cause of death, of whom 1,203 (14.24%) had no LC-related ICD (International Classification of Diseases) code records in the NHIF database during their lives (post-mortem diagnosed LC population). Post-mortem diagnosed LC patients were significantly older than patients diagnosed while still alive (mean age 71.20 vs. 68.69 years, p<0.001), with a more pronounced age difference among female patients (difference: 4.57 years, p<0.001), and had significantly fewer GP (General Practitioner) and specialist visits, X-ray and CT scans within 7 to 24 months and 6 months before death, although the differences in GP and specialist visits within 7–24 months did not seem clinically relevant. Patients diagnosed with LC while still alive were more likely to be married (47.62% vs. 33.49%), had higher educational attainment, and had more children, than patients diagnosed with LC post-mortem.

Conclusions: Post-mortem diagnosed lung cancer accounts for 14.24% of total lung cancer mortality in Hungary. This study provides valuable insights into patient characteristics, socio-economic factors, and HCRU data potentially associated with a high risk of lung cancer misdiagnosis.