BACKGROUND: The guideline for postmastectomy radiotherapy (PMRT), which is prescribed to reduce recurrence of breast cancer in the chest wall and improve overall survival, is not always followed. Identifying and extracting important patterns of non-compliance are crucial in maintaining the quality of care in Oncology. METHODS: Analysis of 759 patients with malignant breast cancer using decision tree induction (DTI) found patterns of non-compliance with the guideline. The PMRT guideline was used to separate cases according to the recommendation to receive or not receive PMRT. The two groups of patients were analyzed separately. Resulting patterns were transformed into rules that were then compared with the reasons that were extracted by manual inspection of records for the non-compliant cases. RESULTS: Analyzing patients in the group who should receive PMRT according to the guideline did not result in a robust decision tree. However, classification of the other group, patients who should not receive PMRT treatment according to the guideline, resulted in a tree with nine leaves and three of them were representing non-compliance with the guideline. In a comparison between rules resulting from these three non-compliant patterns and manual inspection of patient records, the following was found: In the decision tree, presence of perigland growth is the most important variable followed by number of malignantly invaded lymph nodes and level of Progesterone receptor. DNA index, age, size of the tumor and level of Estrogen receptor are also involved but with less importance. From manual inspection of the cases, the most frequent pattern for non-compliance is age above the threshold followed by near cut-off values for risk factors and unknown reasons. CONCLUSION: Comparison of patterns of non-compliance acquired from data mining and manual inspection of patient records demonstrates that not all of the non-compliances are repetitive or important. There are some overlaps between important variables acquired from manual inspection of patient records and data mining but they are not identical. Data mining can highlight non-compliance patterns valuable for guideline authors and for medical audit. Improving guidelines by using feedback from data mining can improve the quality of care in oncology.
Breast malignancy is the second most common cause of cancer death among women in Western countries. Identifying high-risk patients is vital in order to provide them with specialized treatment. In some situations, such as when access to experienced oncologists is not possible, decision support methods can be helpful in predicting the recurrence of cancer. Three thousand six hundred ninety-nine breast cancer patients admitted in south-east Sweden from 1986 to 1995 were studied. A decision tree was trained with all patients except for 100 cases and tested with those 100 cases. Two domain experts were asked for their opinions about the probability of recurrence of a certain outcome for these 100 patients. ROC curves, area under the ROC curves, and calibration for predictions were computed and compared. After comparing the predictions from a model built by data mining with predictions made by two domain experts, no significant differences were noted. In situations where experienced oncologists are not available, predictive models created with data mining techniques can be used to support physicians in decision making with acceptable accuracy.