Before scheduling surgery, experts say, it’s a good idea for patients to see how often the procedure is done at the hospitals they’re considering.

Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council issues an annual report make that process easy for cancer patients, and the latest version came out today, for July 2017 through June 2018.

The independent state agency says hospitals with low volumes of the surgeries “are more likely to have worse outcomes, such as more deaths.”

However, the report does not include outcome data — and does note that other factors including surgeon experience play a role, so patients should not make decisions solely on surgery volume.

The American Cancer Society offers similar advice, saying it’s important “to find a hospital that has experience treating your type of cancer,” but also that “doctors have better success treating a condition if they have a lot of experience with it.”

The report shows that more than a third of hospitals offering cancer surgeries performed only one or two operations for bladder, esophagus, liver and stomach cancers over the year — a pattern roughly echoed by Lancaster-area hospitals.

Each hospital in the Lancaster area had at least one type of cancer for which it performed only a few surgeries in the last fiscal year, according to the report. They emailed comments.

Dr. Randall Oyer, medical director of oncology at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, wrote that for types of surgery the local hospital doesn’t do often, the system has part-time coverage from experienced Penn Medicine Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania surgeons “who routinely perform the procedures.”

Carrie Willetts, senior vice president of WellSpan Health and president of WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, wrote, “We’re proud to offer expert surgical care for a range of treatment needs, including a variety of cancers, and our patient outcomes are consistently strong.”

UPMC Pinnacle spokeswoman Kelly McCall wrote that except for lung cancer surgery, all types of cancer surgeries formerly offered at the closed Lancaster hospital are now offered at UPMC Pinnacle Lititz.

She noted that surgeries on some cancers are performed in small numbers across the state and that the system offers nonsurgical treatment, including targeted radiation therapy and immunotherapies that may be better options in some cases.

“UPMC Pinnacle offers highly skilled clinicians that treat a variety of cancers, including breast, prostate, lung and women’s cancer programs that are nationally recognized for quality,” she wrote.

Comment from Penn State Health was not immediately available Wednesday.


Story on last year's report