According to researchers, many United States hospitals are failing to check enough lymph nodes after surgery to see if the cancer has spread, a key quality benchmark for the care of colon cancer patients. Treating colon cancer involves surgery to remove the part of the colon affected with cancer, along with some healthy tissue on either side of the cancer to help ensure nothing is left behind. Nearby lymph nodes are also removed to test for the presence of cancer. Leading medical organizations state doctors should inspect at least twelve lymph nodes to determine whether the cancer has metastasized and to accurately determine the stage, or severity, of the cancer; checking too few of these lymph nodes may give the false impression that the cancer has not spread. Checking lymph nodes helps to guide future treatment, such as whether the patient is able to receive the chemotherapy that could help with survival.
A recent review of data from 1,296 hospitals, however, showed that only thirty-eight percent checked at least twelve nodes in at least three-quarters of the patients who had surgery to remove colon cancer in 2004 and 2005. Although these numbers mark an increase over the fifteen percent of hospitals that met this standard in 1996 and 1997, it is still far from what is recommended. Another study recently found sixty-percent of older patients treated for colon cancer are not given the recommended screening to detect a recurrence of cancer. The hospitals that did not meet the standard treat about two-thirds of the colon cancer patients.