Patients with previous cancer are often excluded from clinical trials despite limited evidence about their prognosis. We examined the effect of previous cancer on overall and colorectal cancer (CRC)-specific survival of patients newly diagnosed with CRC. This population-based cohort study from the U.S.A. included patients aged ≥66 years and diagnosed with CRC between 2005 and 2015 in linked Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results-Medicare data. We estimated the stage-specific effects of a previous cancer on overall survival using Cox regression and on CRC-specific survival using competing risk regression. We also examined the effect of previous cancer type, timing, and stage on overall survival. Of 112,769 patients, 14.1% were previously diagnosed with another cancer––commonly prostate (32.9%) or breast (19.4%) cancer, with many (47.1%) diagnosed <5 years of CRC. For all CRC stages except IV, in which there was no difference, patients with previous cancer (vs. without) had worse overall survival. However, patients with previous cancer had improved CRC-specific survival. Overall survival for those with stage 0–III CRC varied by previous cancer type, timing, and stage; for example, patients with previous melanoma had overall survival equivalent to those with no previous cancer. Our results indicate that, in general, CRC patients with previous cancer have worse overall survival but superior CRC-specific survival. Given their equivalent survival to those without previous cancer, patients with previous melanoma and those with stage IV CRC with any type of previous cancer should be eligible to participate in clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4752-4767
Number of pages16
JournalCancer Medicine
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • clinical trials
  • colorectal cancer
  • rectal cancer
  • survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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