The NY Times reports on a study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by researchers at Columbia University. The question they address concerned why the treatment of women similarly affected by breast cancer varied. In particular, they looked after radiation treatment after lumpectomy, which is documented to be the better course of treatment.
The researchers analyzed data on nearly 30,000 women aged 65 and older who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1991 and 2002 and who received lumpectomy. They also analyzed data on the 4,453 surgeons who operated on the women.
About 25% of women do not get the preferred treatment. There were two sets of facts that made a difference:
1. As earlier studies indicated, demographic factors mattered: Older women, black women, unmarried women and those living outside urban areas were less likely to receive radiation.
But the new report looks at doctors behind the treatment, and it found:
2. Women who received radiation were more likely to have a female surgeon. Women who were treated by more experienced surgeons were also more likely to receive radiation treatment, as were women treated by doctors trained in the United States. (Note: the study was of women treated in the US; it is not a comparison among countries.)
The article states,
Dr. Dawn L. Hershman, co-director of the breast program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University, said … “There are many fantastic male surgeons….It shouldn’t be taken that every woman should be seen by a woman, but there are some contributing factors to this difference that we need to investigate further.’’
It seems important to know also whether the influence was evenly distributed over those with the unfortunate demographics.
And finally the article reveals a small tension between the author and the person doing the titles; while the title has the term ‘sex,’ the article uses ‘gender.’