Surgeons' Characteristics Influence Breast Cancer Care

Gender, race, schooling influence likelihood of giving radiation, study says

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TUESDAY, Jan. 29, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Individual surgeon characteristics, such as gender and medical training, may influence whether a women receives radiation after breast conservation cancer surgery, a U.S. study suggests.

Many breast cancer patients don't receive radiation therapy after breast conservation therapy, even though it's been shown to reduce breast cancer recurrence and is considered a standard of quality care, according to background information in the study.

Previous research has shown that certain patient characteristics, such as race and distance from a radiation therapy facility, influence the likelihood of receiving radiation after breast cancer surgery. But the effect of doctor characteristics has been unclear.

In this study, published in the Jan. 29 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University in New York City analyzed data on about 30,000 women, 65 and older, who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1991 and 2002 and received breast-conservation surgery. The researchers also looked at the 4,453 surgeons who operated on the women.

About 75 percent of the women in the study received radiation after surgery and, each year from 1991 to 2002, there was an increase in the percentage of women who received radiation. But older women, black women, unmarried women and those living outside urban areas were less likely to receive radiation.

After they adjusted for patient and tumor characteristics, the study authors concluded that women who received radiation were more likely to have a surgeon who was female, had an M.D. degree (compared to a D.O. degree), or was trained in the United States.

"Our study is one of the first to demonstrate associations between certain surgeon characteristics and quality of breast cancer care. If confirmed, more research is needed on whether they reflect surgeon behavior, patient response, or physician-patient interactions," the researchers wrote.

More information

Breastcancer.org has more about breast cancer treatment.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, Jan. 29, 2008

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