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BACKGROUND: Among the general population, type of health insurance has been reported to affect the location of ambulatory visits and the content of those visits. We examined where cancer patient visits occurred (physicians' offices or hospital clinics), and whether anticancer therapy is administered or prescribed. METHODS: Cross-sectional study using National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Care Survey (NAMCS/NHAMCS) data to characterize ambulatory cancer patient visits from 2001-2003. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were performed to identify factors associated with where a cancer patient went for care (office practice versus hospital clinic) and anticancer therapy received. RESULTS: Thirteen percent of patients visited hospital clinics, with the remainder visiting office-based settings. Younger cancer patients and those with Medicaid were more likely to visit hospital clinics compared to older and privately insured cancer patients. Cancer patients with <6 visits in the last year were less likely to be seen in the office setting. Patients with lung cancer, lymphoma/leukemia and melanoma were less likely to have anticancer therapy administered or prescribed compared to breast cancer patients. The uninsured were less likely to have anticancer administered or prescribed compared with the privately insured. CONCLUSIONS: Cancer patients with Medicaid were more likely to visit hospital clinics than privately insured patients. Treatment was associated with cancer type, not where care occurred and health insurance type, though there was a trend for the uninsured and those insured by Medicaid to be less likely to be administered or be prescribed anticancer therapy.