Variations in Persistent Use of Low-Value Breast Cancer Surgery

JAMA Surg. 2021 Apr 1;156(4):353-362. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2020.6942.


Importance: Through the Choosing Wisely campaign, surgical specialties identified 4 low-value breast cancer operations. Preliminary data suggest varying rates of deimplementation and have identified patient-level and clinician-level determinants of continued overuse. However, little information exists about facility-level variation or determinants of differential deimplementation.

Objective: To identify variation and determinants of persistent use of low-value breast cancer surgical care.

Design, setting, and participants: Retrospective cohort study in which reliability-adjusted facility rates of each procedure were calculated using random-intercept hierarchical logistic regression before and after evidence demonstrated that each procedure was unnecessary. The National Cancer Database is a prospective cancer registry of patients encompassing approximately 70% of all new cancer diagnoses from more than 1500 facilities in the United States. Data were analyzed from November 2019 to August 2020. The registry included women 18 years and older diagnosed as having breast cancer between 2004 and 2016 and meeting inclusion criteria for each Choosing Wisely recommendation.

Main outcomes and measures: Rate of each low-value breast cancer procedure based on facility type and breast cancer volume categories before and after the release of data supporting each procedure's omission.

Results: The total cohort included 920 256 women with a median age of 63 years. Overall, 86% self-identified as White, 10% as Black, 3% as Asian, and 4.5% as Hispanic. Most women in this cohort were insured (51% private and 47% public), were living in a metropolitan or urban area (88% and 11%, respectively), and originated from the top half of income-earning households (65.5%). While there was significant deimplementation of axillary lymph node dissection and lumpectomy reoperation in response to guidelines supporting omission of these procedures, rates of contralateral prophylactic mastectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy in older women increased during the study period. Academic research programs and high-volume facilities overall demonstrated the greatest reduction in use of these low-value procedures. There was significant interfacility variation for each low-value procedure. Facility-level axillary lymph node dissection rates ranged from 7% to 47%, lumpectomy reoperation rates ranged from 3% to 62%, contralateral prophylactic mastectomy rates ranged from 9% to 67%, and sentinel lymph node biopsy rates ranged from 25% to 97%. Pearson correlation coefficient for each combination of 2 of the 4 procedures was less than 0.11, suggesting that hospitals were not consistent in their deimplementation performance across all 4 procedures. Many were high outliers in one procedure but low outliers in another.

Conclusions and relevance: Interfacility variation demonstrates a performance gap and an opportunity for formal deimplementation efforts targeting each procedure. Several facility-level characteristics were associated with differential deimplementation and performance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Registries
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States