Colon cancer operations at high- and low-mortality hospitals

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There is wide variation in mortality across hospitals for cancer operations. While higher rates of mortality are commonly ascribed to high-risk resections, the impact on more common operations is unclear. We sought to evaluate causes of mortality following colon cancer operations across hospitals.


Forty-nine American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer hospitals were selected for participation in a Commission on Cancer special study. We ranked hospitals using a composite measure of mortality and performed onsite chart reviews. We examined patient characteristics and mortality following colon resections at very high-mortality and very low- mortality hospitals (2006–2007).


We identified 3,025 patients who underwent an operation at 19 low-mortality (n = 1,006) and 30 high-mortality (n = 2,019) hospitals. There were wide differences in risk-adjusted mortality between high-mortality and low-mortality hospitals (9.3% vs 2.4%; P < .001). Compared with low-mortality hospitals, high-mortality hospitals had more patients who were black (11.2% vs 6.5%; P < .001), had ≥2 comorbidities (22.7% vs 18.9%; P < .05), were categorized American Society of Anesthesiologists class 4–5 (11.9% vs 5.3%; P < .001), and were functionally dependent (13.9% vs 8.8%; P < .001). Rates of complication were similar in high-mortality versus low-mortality hospitals (odds ratio 1.29, 95% confidence interval, 0.85–1.95). For those experiencing complications, though, case fatality rates were significantly higher in high-mortality versus low-mortality hospitals (odds ratio 3.74, 95% confidence interval, 1.59–8.82).


There is significant variation in mortality across hospitals for colon cancer operations, despite similar perioperative morbidity. This finding reflects a need for improved operative decision-making to enhance outcomes and quality of care at these hospitals.

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