Evaluations of cancer etiology and safety and effectiveness of cancer treatments are predicated on large numbers of patients with sufficient baseline and follow-up data. To assess feasibility of FDA's Sentinel System's electronic healthcare data for surveillance of malignancy onset and examination of product safety, this study examined patterns of enrollment surrounding new-onset cancers.


Using a retrospective cohort of patients based on administrative claims, we identified incident events of 19 cancers among 292.5 million health plan members from January 2000 to February 2020 using International Classification of Diseases (ICD) diagnosis codes. Annual incident cases were stratified by sex, age, medical and drug coverage, and insurer type. Descriptive statistics were calculated for observable time prior to and following diagnosis.


We identified 10,697,573 incident cancer events among members with medical coverage. When drug coverage was additionally required, number of incident cancers was reduced by 41%. Medicare data contributed 61% of cases, with similar duration trends as other insurers. Mean duration of follow-up prior to diagnosis ranged from 4.0 to 4.6 years, whereas follow-up post diagnosis ranged from 1.1 to 3.3 years. Approximately a third (36.1%) had at least 2 years both prior to and following diagnosis.


The FDA Sentinel System's electronic healthcare data may be useful for characterizing relatively short latency cancer risk, examining cancer drug utilization and safety after diagnosis, and conducting surveillance for acute adverse events among patients with cancers.


A national distributed system with electronic health data, the Sentinel system provides opportunity for rapid pharmacoepidemiologic assessments relevant in oncology.

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