According to a study from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, and the American College of Surgeons, low-risk cancer patients can undergo certain cancer surgeries at community hospitals and experience low rates of surgery related mortality.1

Thirteen cancer surgeries, including those for gastric and colon cancer, in younger patients with few pre-existing conditions had survival rates at community hospitals similar to those at cancer centers, the study concluded. However, high-risk patients or those who need complicated surgeries have a higher survival rate at specialized cancer centers. Such surgeries include those for pancreatic and esophageal cancer, which are among the most complicated. Patients are twice as likely to survive these surgeries at a specialized cancer center, which the study defined as a National Cancer Institute– designated comprehensive cancer center.

The study did not examine long-term survival after surgery or other factors such as whether the surgery removed all of the cancer.

Patients may need to be referred to specialized centers for other reasons such as clinical trials, treatments, technology, and the care of experts available only in an academic medical center, says lead author Karl Bilimoria, MD, a surgery resident at the Feinberg School. The information provides new evidence for patients who cannot afford to travel to a high-volume center or who prefer to stay near family or with their original physicians, he notes.


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  • 1
    Bilimoria KY, Bentrem DJ, Talamonti MS Stewart AK Winchester DP Ko CY Riskbased selective referral for cancer surgery: a potential strategy to improve perioperative outcomes. Ann Surg. 2010; 251: 708-716.