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Cancer-surgery complications rise while death risk drops

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TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The number of complications experienced by U.S. patients after major cancer surgery is rising, but fewer are dying from their operations, a new study reveals.

Researchers analyzed data from 2.5 million patients older than 18 who had major cancer surgery between 1999 and 2009. Procedures included partial or complete removal of a cancerous colon, bladder, esophagus, stomach, uterus, lung, pancreas or prostate.

The study found "marked and worrisome increases" in certain types of complications after surgery.

"Our report shows that while the incidence of preventable adverse events after major cancer surgery -- blood clots, infections, respiratory failure and pressure ulcers -- is increasing, the overall mortality of patients undergoing these procedures is decreasing in the U.S.," study co-author Dr. Jesse Sammon, a urologist at Henry Ford Hospital, said in a hospital news release.

"This paradox is explained in our report by the fact that physicians are probably getting increasingly better at identifying these adverse events early and managing them more effectively, thereby leading to lower mortality rates from adverse events and, by extension, lower overall mortality rates in the entire population of patients undergoing these procedures," Sammon said.

Despite the falling death rates, more needs to be done to prevent complications after major cancer surgery, the study authors noted.

"Just because physicians have become increasingly effective at managing these adverse events once they occur does not obviate the fact that there's still a lot of room for improvement in reducing the actual occurrence of these adverse events in the first place," Sammon said.

The findings, published online in BMJ Open, could lead to changes in national health care policy and a reallocation of resources, the researchers said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about cancer treatment.

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