Introduction: There is a wide variation in the lung cancer resection rate in England. We assessed the effect of the regional provision of thoracic surgery service on the variation in lung cancer resection rate.
Methods: A retrospective observational study correlating National Lung Cancer Audit data with thoracic surgery workforce data was performed to review the lung cancer resection rate in England in 2008 and 2009.
Results: In 2008, there was a sixfold variation in resection rate, with a higher resection rate in hospitals where surgeons were based (base hospitals) than in peripheral hospitals (20.0% versus 11.6%, p < 0.001). The resection rate was also higher in cancer networks, which were served by two or more specialist thoracic surgeons (14.6% versus 12.7%, p = 0.028), and where surgeons were present in more than two-thirds of the lung cancer multidisciplinary team meetings (14.4% versus 12.0%, p = 0.046). In 2009, the overall resection rate increased from 14.5% to 18.4%. Four units increased their number of specialist thoracic surgeons and had a significantly higher increase in resection rate than units without expansion (relative rise 66.3% versus 19.2%; p = 0.022).
Conclusions: The large variation in the resection rate seems, in part, to be related to the local availability of specialist thoracic surgeons. The greatest improvement in the resection rate was in units with expansion of specialist thoracic surgeons. We suggest the expansion of specialist thoracic surgeons will improve the resection rate and thereby the overall survival of lung cancer in England. This has significant implications for the future of training in cardiothoracic surgery and organization of cancer services.