Patients suffering from head or neck cancer are more likely to survive if treated in a hospital that treats annually more than 20 people with this type of cancer, a study by the Federal Centre of Healthcare Expertise (KCE) shows. Twenty-three hospitals, that is less than a quarter of the country’s hospitals, reach this threshold. The treatment should be centralized, the organisation recommended Wednesday.
As of 1 July 2019, only hospitals performing at least 20 operations a year will still offer surgery for oesophageal or pancreatic cancer. For the KCE, the same path should be followed for the treatment of head and neck cancer.
These cancers, specifically squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx, which are the most common forms, mostly affect men over 60. Rare, but very painful, the risk of developing them are increased by chronic smoking and high alcohol consumption. Belgium is the second most affected country in Europe for men, and the fourth for women.
The KCE study shows that head and neck cancer treatment is widely dispersed: between 2009 and 2014, 9,245 patients were treated in 99 different hospitals. Half of these hospitals took charge of four patients at the most per year, and a quarter of fewer than two cases.
Five years after diagnosis, only 55% of these patients were still living. But those treated in hospitals, which treat more than 20 head or neck cancer cases annually, have a better chance of survival: 5.1 years versus 4 years, the KCE reports.
The Brussels Times