A study published in the August print issue of the Journal of Oncology Practice shows that from 1998-2008, wait times for colorectal cancer operations at Veterans Administration hospitals increased from 19 to 32 days. But researchers think longer waits may be a reflection of several unmeasured variables including more careful care, staffing, and patient conditions or preferences.
“Some of it is purely staffing – we don’t have enough surgeons or nurses or anesthetists or O.R. time to meet the need,” says Martin McCarter, MD, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and surgical oncologist at the University of Colorado Hospital. “But some of this increase in wait times for cancer procedures at the VA may be due to an increased focus on quality and outcomes. Better care takes time.”
The study used data from 17,487 patients listed in the VA Central Cancer Registry. McCarter and colleagues including first author Ryan Merkow, MD, former surgery resident at UCH, compared the time between diagnosis and definitive, cancer-directed therapy such as colectomy or rectal resection in 1998 and 2008. During this 10-year period, the median time from diagnosis to treatment increased from 19 to 32 days. At high-volume centers, increases were even more pronounced, jumping 14 days for the treatment of colon cancer and nearly 30 days for the treatment of rectal cancer.