New ovarian cancer study: higher death rates at low-volume hospitals

New ovarian cancer study: higher death rates at low-volume hospitals

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women, and it causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer. According to estimates from the American Cancer Society, approximately 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2012 alone.

While ovarian cancer is certainly a serious illness that affects thousands of women, the prognosis can be good if there is no delay in diagnosis and any complications that arise are handled competently. But, according to new research from the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, what type of hospital ovarian cancer patients wind up in can drastically affect treatment outcomes.

Almost 50 percent greater risk for ovarian cancer patients at low-volume hospitals

The new study is being published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In it, researchers detail their findings based on more than ten years of data on over 36,000 women between the ages of 18 and 90 who had undergone surgical treatment for ovarian cancer.

The study reveals a troubling trend in patient outcomes based on one critical factor: hospital volume. The more patients treated by a hospital, the more likely patients were to survive complications that arose following surgical treatment for ovarian cancer. Those patients who experienced complications at low-volume hospitals had an almost 50 percent greater chance of dying due to the complications compared to patients treated at high-volume hospitals.

"For women who experienced a complication at a low-volume hospital, the mortality rate was 8 percent," said Dr. Jason Wright, one of the study's authors and a gynecologic oncologist at NYP/ Columbia University Medical Center. "For women at a high-volume hospital, it was 4.9 percent. After adjusting for variables, we concluded that the failure-to-rescue rate was 48 percent higher at low-volume hospitals than at high-volume hospitals. In short, high-volume hospitals are better able to rescue patients with complications following ovarian cancer surgery."

Ovarian cancer patients were found to be more likely to survive complications at high-volume hospitals. However, there was a slightly higher incidence of complications at high-volume hospitals: 20.4 percent of ovarian cancer surgical patients treated at low-volume hospitals experienced complications, compared to 24.6 percent at high-volume hospitals.

Poorer patient outcomes could be prevented

It is widely documented in previous studies that surgical volume has an important impact on outcomes following surgery. Although the latest ovarian cancer study did not delve into reasons for the trends it uncovered, experience has been found to be a key factor in similar research; higher volume hospitals tend to have more experienced physicians, and this may explain why they are better at addressing complications (it could also be why complications are more likely to arise at high-volume hospitals - these institutions typically get more complex cases as high-risk patients are referred to more experienced providers).

"Our findings suggest that targeted initiatives to improve the care of patients with complication can improve outcomes," said Dr. Dawn Hershman, another author of the study. "And at the most basic level, the findings highlight the importance of preventing complications to begin with. They increase mortality, in the worst-case scenario, but can also cause long-term medical problems, with patients and families facing difficult treatment choices and additional costs."

Nothing about fighting ovarian cancer is easy; but, a patient's battle should never be intensified by medical mistakes or a doctor's lack of experience. If you or a loved one has struggled against ovarian cancer, and you believe errors on the part of medical providers may be partly to blame, you could be entitled to monetary compensation. Talk to a medical malpractice attorney today to learn more.