With conventional blunt surgical resection of rectal cancer, local recurrence rates are high and the individual surgeon putatively influences patient outcome. With total mesorectal excision (TME) local recurrence rates have been reduced and intersurgeon variability may be less important. The ‘TME project’ was a collaborative project that included surgical workshops in Stockholm between 1994 and 1997. The aim of this study was to assess the impact of the project on the practice of rectal cancer surgery in Stockholm and to analyse whether surgeon case volume and participation in the workshops influenced patient outcome.


All 652 patients who had an abdominal resection for rectal cancer in Stockholm between 1995 and 1997 were included. Outcome was compared in patients operated on by teams that included high-volume surgeons (more than 12 operations per year) with teams that included low-volume surgeons (12 operations or fewer per year), as well as between teams that including workshop participants and non-participants.


Forty-six surgeons operated on the 652 patients. Five high-volume surgeons operated on 48 per cent of the patients. In these, outcome was significantly better than in patients treated by low-volume surgeons (local recurrence rate 4 versus 10 per cent (P = 0·02); rate of rectal cancer death 11 versus 18 per cent (P = 0·007)). Twenty-six surgeons were workshop participants and performed 93 per cent of the operations. Radiotherapy, TME and sphincter-preserving surgery were more common among patients treated by workshop participants.


The TME project has had an impact on rectal cancer surgical practice in Stockholm. Variability in patient outcome was mainly related to case volume, with better results obtained in patients treated by high-volume surgeons. © 2002 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd