New research offers both good news and bad about the effectiveness of surgery in treating cancer. On the one hand patients who undergo major cancer surgery in the U.S. suffer from complications such as blood clots and infections. On the other, fewer surgical patients are dying from their operations than in years past.
The findings — by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital and others in the U.S., Canada, and Germany — could lead to recommended changes in national healthcare policy and treatment standards for cancer patients.
"Our report shows that while the incidence of preventable adverse events after major cancer surgery — blood clots, infections, respiratory failure, and pressure ulcers — is increasing, the overall mortality of patients undergoing these procedures is decreasing in the U. S.," said Jesse Sammon, a Henry Ford Hospital urologist who helped conduct the study, published online in the British Medical Journal Open.
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"This paradox is explained in our report by the fact that physicians are probably getting increasingly better at identifying these adverse events early and managing them more effectively, thereby leading to lower mortality rates from adverse events and, by extension, lower overall mortality rates in the entire population of patients undergoing these procedures."
The study — the largest ever to assess the quality of oncological surgical care — tracked the experiences of 2.5 million surgery patients who underwent a major cancer procedure between 1999 and 2009. The operations included removal of a cancerous colon, bladder, esophagus, stomach, uterus, lung, pancreas, or prostate.
Among the findings were "marked and worrisome increases" in the rate of infections, pressure ulcers, and respiratory failure after surgery. But there were also improvements in survival and in preventing anesthetic- and transfusion-related complications and hip fractures.
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