Ovarian cancer: Why specialized care is important

Common sense says that patients with ovarian cancer treated by doctors who are specially trained to care for them, at hospitals that do large numbers of ovarian cancer surgeries, have better outcomes.

Ovarian cancer is a complex, life threatening disease in which initial treatment has a huge impact on survival. This is true for both patients with early and advanced disease.

Gynecologic oncologists are physicians with the advanced training needed to perform complex surgeries and administer chemotherapy to patients with ovarian cancer.

At last months Annual Meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists in Los Angeles, California, Dr. Rob Bristow presented research that proves the obvious. They identified over 13,000 patients with ovarian cancer from the California Cancer Registry and determined how many patients were treated according to guidelines set by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).

These comprehensive guidelines are developed by highly regarded physicians from around the world and include recommendations for surgery and chemotherapy.

In this study, only 37 percent of patients received the care recommended by the NCCN. Patients with advanced ovarian cancer survived longer if they received the recommended care.

They also looked at the hospitals and physicians who performed the surgeries. They defined high volume hospitals as those who treated more than 20 ovarian cancer patients per year. High volume surgeons were those who performed more than 10 ovarian cancer surgeries per year.

An unacceptable, 18 percent of patients were treated at high volume hospitals, and 16 percent had their surgeries performed by high volume surgeons. These patients were more likely to have treatment as recommended by the NCCN and survived longer.

Not surprisingly, patients receiving care at low volume hospitals or by low volume surgeons had an inferior survival.

It is crucial to improve survival for this deadly disease, that patients are referred to a board certified gynecologic oncologist as early in their treatment as possible.

This blog post was contributed by Noelle Gillette Cloven, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth.

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Ovarian cancer: Why specialized care is important