Online tool can help Pennsylvania cancer patients decide where to have surgery

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Marie McCullough


Hospitals that have lots of experience performing cancer surgeries have superior outcomes.

Because of that well-documented link between cancer surgery volume and patient results, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) on Thursday posted updated online data showing hospital surgical volumes for 2018 for 11 types of cancer: bladder, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate, rectum, and stomach. PHC4, an independent state-funded organization, launched the tool last year with the initial report.

Like last year’s report, the new one shows that breast cancer prompted the most oncology surgeries statewide, with 11,549 operations at 137 hospitals and outpatient centers. Only 10 of these facilities, or about 7 percent, had low breast surgery volumes, defined as doing just one or two operations in a year. At the other extreme, stomach cancer patients had 319 surgeries at 57 hospitals, and 44 percent of the centers had low volumes — a smaller fraction than the previous year.

In the five-county Southeastern Pennsylvania region, Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania had high surgical volumes even for less common cancers such as pancreatic, stomach, and esophageal.

The online tool does not include cancers such as gynecological and skin because there is insufficient evidence in those cases that surgical volume makes a difference in cures, survival or other outcomes.

PHC4′s data are compiled from hospital billing records and can be sorted by county, hospital and cancer type. Although no one knows what the lowest acceptable number of procedures is, surgical volume is “another tool for cancer patients and their families to use when considering treatment options,” said PHC4 executive director Joe Martin.