Purpose: The Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system treats approximately 3% of patients with cancer in the United States each year. We measured the quality of nonmetastatic colorectal cancer (CRC) care in VA as indicated by concordance with National Comprehensive Cancer Network practice guidelines (six indicators) and timeliness of care (three indicators).
Patients and methods: A retrospective medical record abstraction was done for 2,492 patients with incident stages I to III CRC diagnosed between October 1, 2003, and March 31, 2006, who underwent definitive CRC surgery. Patients were treated at one or more of 128 VA medical centers. The proportion of patients receiving guideline-concordant care and time intervals between care processes were calculated.
Results: More than 80% of patients had preoperative carcinoembryonic antigen determination (ie, stages II to III disease) and documented clear surgical margins (ie, stages II to III disease). Between 72% and 80% of patients had appropriate referral to a medical oncologist (ie, stages II to III disease), preoperative computed tomography scan of the abdomen and pelvis (ie, stages II to III disease), and adjuvant fluorouracil-based chemotherapy (ie, stage III disease). Less than half of patients with stages I to III CRC (43.5%) had a follow-up colonoscopy 7 to 18 months after surgery. The mean number of days between major treatment events included the following: 26.6 days (standard deviation [SD], 38.2; median, 20 days) between diagnosis and initiation of treatment (in stages II to III disease); 64.8 [corrected] days (SD, 54.9; median, 50 days) between definitive surgery and start of adjuvant chemotherapy (in stages II to III disease); and 444.2 [corrected] days (SD, 182.1; median, 393 days) between definitive surgery and follow-up colonoscopies (in stages I to III disease).
Conclusion: Although there is opportunity for improvement in the area of cancer surveillance, the VA performs well in meeting established guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of CRC.