The authors systematically reviewed the association between provider case volume and mortality in 101 publications involving greater than 1 million patients with esophageal, gastric, hepatic, pancreatic, colon, or rectal cancer, of whom more than 70,000 died. The majority of studies addressed the relation between hospital surgical case volume and short-term perioperative mortality. Few studies addressed surgeon case volume or evaluated long-term survival outcomes. Common methodologic limitations were failure to control for potential confounders, post hoc categorization of provider volume, and unit of analysis errors. A significant volume effect was evident for the majority of gastrointestinal cancers; with each doubling of hospital case volume, the odds of perioperative death decreased by 0.1 to 0.23. The authors calculated that between 10 and 50 patients per year, depending on cancer type, needed to be moved from a "low-volume" hospital to a "high-volume" hospital to prevent 1 additional volume-associated perioperative death. Despite this, approximately one-third of all analyses did not find a significant volume effect on mortality. The heterogeneity of results from individual studies calls into question the validity of case volume as a proxy for care quality, and leads the authors to conclude that more direct quality measures and the validity of their use to inform policy should also be explored.
(c) 2009 American Cancer Society.