Background: Most women with localized breast cancer have a choice between mastectomy and breast conserving surgery (BCS). Aside from clinical factors, this decision may be associated with surgeon and patient characteristics. We investigated the effect of surgeon characteristics on the BCS rate.
Methods: We used the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results-Medicare database to identify women >65 years, diagnosed with stages I-II BC, between 1991 and 2002, and used the Physician Unique Identification Number linked to the American Medical Association Masterfile to obtain information on surgeons. We investigated the association of patient demographic, tumor, and surgeon-related factors with receipt of BCS, using Generalized Estimating Equations to control for clustering.
Results: Of 56,768 women with breast cancer, 30,006 (53%) underwent BCS, whereas 26,762 (47%) underwent mastectomy. Between 1991 and 2002, the proportion of patients undergoing BCS increased from 35% to 60%. In a multivariate analysis, patients who received BCS were younger, of higher SES, and had more favorable tumor characteristics. They were also more likely to be black and live in metropolitan areas. Women who underwent BCS were more likely to have surgeons who were female (OR = 1.40; 95% CI: 1.25–1.55), US-trained (OR = 1.12; 95% CI: 1.02–1.22), with a larger patient panel (OR = 1.29; 95% CI: 1.21–1.39), and completed training after 1975 (OR = 1.16; 95% CI: 1.08–1.25), than surgeons of patients who underwent mastectomy.
Conclusions: Surgeon characteristics, such as gender, training, year of graduation, and volume, are small but significant independent predictor of BCS. Efforts to differentiate whether these associations reflect patients’ preferences, quality of physician training, surgeon attitudes, physician-patient communication, or other effects on decision-making are warranted.