Hematologist/oncologist disease-specific expertise and survival: lessons from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL)

Cancer. 2012 Apr 1;118(7):1827-37. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26474. Epub 2011 Aug 26.


Background: The impact of physicians' disease-specific expertise on patient outcome is unknown. Although previous studies suggest a survival advantage for cancer patients cared for at high-volume centers, these observations may simply reflect referral bias or better access to advanced technologies, clinical trials, and multidisciplinary support at large centers.

Methods: We evaluated time to first treatment (TTFT) and overall survival (OS) of patients with newly diagnosed chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL) at a single academic center based on whether they were cared for by a hematologist/oncologist who subspecializes in CLL (CLL hematologist) or a hematologist/oncologist with expertise in other areas (non-CLL hematologist).

Results: Among 1309 newly diagnosed patients with CLL cared for between 1999 and 2009, 773(59%) were cared for by CLL hematologists and 536 were cared for by non-CLL hematologists. Among early-stage patients (Rai 0-I), median TTFT (9.2 vs 6.1 years; P < .001) and OS (10.5 years vs 8.8 years; P < .001) were longer for patients cared for by CLL hematologists. For all patients, OS was superior for patients cared for by CLL hematologists (10.5 years vs 8.4 years; P = .001). Physician's disease-specific expertise remained an independent predictor of OS after adjusting for age, sex, stage, and lymphocyte count at diagnosis. Patients seen by a CLL hematologist were also more likely to participate in clinical trials (48% vs 16%; P < .001).

Conclusions: Physician disease-specific expertise appears to influence outcome in patients with CLL. To the greatest extent possible, patients should be cared for by a hematologist/oncologist expert in the care of their specific malignancy. When not possible, practice guidelines developed by disease-specific experts should be followed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Databases as Topic
  • Female
  • Hematology*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / diagnosis
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / mortality*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / therapy
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis