Postacute Care and Recovery After Cancer Surgery: Still a Long Way to Go

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To determine whether postacute care (PAC) facilities can compensate for increased mortality stemming from a complicated postoperative recovery (complications or deconditioning).


An increasing number of patients having cancer surgery rely on PAC facilities including skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers to help them recover from postoperative complications and the physical demands of surgery. It is currently unclear whether PAC can successfully compensate for the adverse consequences of a complicated postoperative recovery.


We combined data from the Veterans Affairs Cancer Registry with the Surgical Quality Improvement Program to identify veterans having surgery for stage I-III colorectal cancer from 1999 to 2010. We used propensity matching to control for comorbidity, functional status, postoperative complications, and stage.


We evaluated 10,583 veterans having colorectal cancer surgery, and 765 veterans (7%) were discharged to PAC facilities whereas 9818 veterans (93%) were discharged home. Five-year overall survival after discharge to PAC facilities was 36% compared with 51% after discharge home. Stage I patients discharged to PAC facilities had similar survival (45%) as stage III patients who were discharged home (44%). Patients discharged to PAC facilities had worse survival in the first year after surgery (hazard ratio 2.0, 95% confidence interval 1.7–2.4) and after the first year (hazard ratio 1.4, 95% confidence interval 1.2–1.5).


Discharge to PAC facilities after cancer surgery is not sufficient to overcome the adverse survival effects of a complicated postoperative recovery. Improvement of perioperative care outside the acute hospital setting and development of better postoperative recovery programs for cancer patients are needed to enhance survival after surgery.

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