Breast Cancer Patients Benefit from Choosing Own Surgeon

Relying on physician or health plan referrals may not deliver the most experienced surgeon

FRIDAY, Jan. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Breast cancer patients who play an active role in choosing their surgeon tend to be treated by more experienced surgeons from established cancer programs than women who are referred by a provider or health plan, researchers report in the Jan. 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Timothy Hofer, M.D., of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues evaluated information on 1,844 women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and their 365 surgeons. The researchers found that 54.3 percent of the women were referred to their surgeons by providers or health plans; 20.3 percent chose their surgeon; and 21.9 percent were both referred and chose their surgeon.

Choosing a surgeon by reputation doubled a patient's chance of being treated by a high-volume surgeon and of receiving treatment at a cancer program sanctioned by the American College of Surgeons or the National Cancer Institute (adjusted odds ratio, 2.0 and 3.4, respectively) compared to those who relied on referrals.

"Women with breast cancer who actively participate in the surgeon selection process are more likely to be treated by more experienced surgeons and in hospitals with cancer programs," the authors conclude. "Patients should be aware that provider or health plan-based referral may not connect them with the most experienced surgeon or comprehensive practice setting in their community."

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