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How many surgeons does your cancer program need?

March 22, 2017

    Surgeons are a key part of the cancer care team, and more programs are now investing in specialized surgeons. But which tumor sites require specialized surgeons? And how many do you need? Keep reading to find out.

    Most programs reported having dedicated colorectal and breast surgeons

    In our 2015 Tumor Site Program Survey, we asked programs how many surgeons they had dedicated to working with colorectal, breast, lung, prostate, and gynecologic cancer patients. Respondents chose which tumor site they answered questions about, resulting in varying numbers of responses across the survey. We advised respondents to select the most comprehensive tumor site programs at their organization, so the results may not be representative of national staffing trends.

    Almost all (91%) respondents reported having at least 0.5 FTE surgeons dedicated to colorectal cancer patients, with almost half reporting having 2.5 FTE or more. Similarly, the majority of respondents said they had a dedicated breast surgeon (85%) and/or breast reconstruction surgeon (70%) for cancer patients. Less than 50% report having oncoplastic surgeons on staff.

    Programs may need to add dedicated lung surgeons as screening increases

    When it comes to lung cancer, almost 60% of respondents had a dedicated thoracic surgeon, while 50% had a cardiothoracic surgeon. Among respondents with surgeons dedicated to lung cancer patients, few had more than 2.0 FTEs. This is unsurprising given that many lung cancer patients tend to be ineligible for surgery because they are often diagnosed at later stages. However, this may change as lung cancer screening takes hold, and cancer programs should re-evaluate their thoracic surgeon needs accordingly.

    Number of dedicated breast and lung surgeons increases with tumor site program size

    There's a linear relationship between the median number of dedicated breast surgeons, breast reconstruction surgeons, and oncoplastic surgeons at a cancer program and the number of breast analytic cases seen at that institution. Programs that saw less than 100 analytic breast cancer cases had no surgeons dedicated to treating these patients, while programs that saw more than 500 analytic breast cancer cases had the highest median number of FTEs.

    Similarly, cancer programs that saw more analytic lung cancer cases had a higher median number of dedicated thoracic and cardiothoracic surgeons.

    Assess your program's surgical oncology needs

    Having surgeons dedicated to each tumor site may not be feasible, or even necessary, for all cancer programs. To determine which types of dedicated surgeons are a good use of your limited resources, you need to conduct a thorough evaluation of internal resources and market dynamics for each tumor site.


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