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J R Coll Surg Edinb. 2000 Jun;45(3):164-7.

Centralisation of oesophageal cancer services; the view from the periphery.

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Department of General Surgery, Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy.


There is debate as to whether patients requiring resection for oesophageal cancer should be referred to specialist centralised units rather than being managed by general surgeons in district general hospitals (DGH). The aim of this study was to determine the effects of centralising oesophageal cancer surgery on outcome and quality of service for patients with oesophageal cancer in a peripheral region. Patients with biopsy proven oesophageal cancer diagnosed over a 4 year period were identified from pathology records. Patients were divided into two groups; Group 1 (n = 60) from the first two years of the study who had any surgery performed by a general surgeon within the DGH and Group 2 (n = 53) from the latter two years of the study who had any surgery performed in a regional cardiothoracic unit. The post-operative mortality rate was lower in the specialist unit, 5.6% vs. 12.5%, but this was not statistically significant. There were no significant differences in survival rates; 3 month, 1 year, 2 year and 3 year survival rates were 63% vs. 62%, 24% vs. 25%, 12% vs. 8% and 7% vs. 6% in Groups 1 and 2, respectively. Referral rates for a surgical opinion were significantly lower in Group 2--92% vs. 63% p < 0.01 by Chi-squared test. Patients waited significantly longer from diagnosis to definitive treatment in Group 2--median 15 days vs. 23 days p = 0.17 by Mann-Whitney test. In conclusion, survival rates are not necessarily improved by centralisation of oesophageal cancer surgery and quality of service may be poorer.

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