News Release

Where do patients choose to undergo breast cancer surgery, and do these choices drive health care inequality?

Study links certain patient characteristics with the likelihood of bypassing the nearest surgical center for treatment

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Including patients as partners for making decisions about their medical treatments is an important aspect of patient-centered care. A new study from England examined choices that patients with breast cancer make when considering where to have surgery for their condition and assessed how policies that offer such choices might affect inequalities in the health care system. The findings are published by Wiley online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

For the study, investigators analyzed data from the National Health Service (NHS), the publicly funded health care system in the United Kingdom that offers patients with cancer the opportunity to select any hospital providing cancer treatment, and identified all women diagnosed with breast cancer from 2016 to 2018 who had breast-conserving surgery or a mastectomy.

Records showed that 22,622 of 69,153 patients undergoing breast-conserving surgery (32.7%) and 7,179 of 23,536 patients undergoing mastectomy (30.5%) bypassed their nearest hospital to receive surgery farther away from home. Women who were younger, without additional medical conditions, of white ethnic background, or lived in rural areas were more likely to travel to more distant hospitals.

Patients were more likely to be treated at hospitals classified as specialist breast reconstruction centers even if they personally were not undergoing breast reconstruction after surgery. Patients who had a mastectomy and immediate breast reconstruction were more likely to travel to hospitals that had surgeons with a strong media reputation for breast cancer surgery, and patients were less likely to travel to hospitals with shorter surgical waiting times. Patients did not seem to make choices based on hospitals’ research activity, quality rating, breast re-operation rates (to remove additional cancer cells that were missed), or status as a multidisciplinary cancer center (where patients can receive all their care at one location).

The investigators noted that this separation—elderly patients, those with comorbidities, and those from ethnic minority backgrounds receiving care at their local hospital, while others travel to other hospitals and specialist centers—could further drive inequalities in access to quality care.

“As marginalized groups already face barriers to high-quality care, it is important for policy makers to consider measures that mitigate against the risks of increasing inequalities in access and outcomes, by for example providing free transport, accommodation, or even protection against loss of income,” said co-author Lu Han, PhD, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Moreover, patients prefer to access information on the quality of breast cancer care of the hospitals in their region at the start of the management pathway when a diagnosis is sought. Such information should be easy to understand and presented in a format that can support the trade-offs that patients have to make.”


Additional information
The information contained in this release is protected by copyright. Please include journal attribution in all coverage. A free abstract of this article will be available via the CANCER Newsroom upon online publication. For more information or to obtain a PDF of any study, please contact: Sara Henning-Stout,

Full Citation:
“Association of travel time, patient characteristics and hospital quality with patient mobility for breast cancer surgery: a national population-based study.” Ajay Aggarwal, Lu Han, Daniel Lewis, Jeanette Costigan, Alison Hubbard, Joanne Taylor, Anne Rigg, Arnie Purushotham, and Jan van der Meulen. CANCER; Published Online: January 8 2024 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.35153).

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About the Journal
CANCER is a peer-reviewed publication of the American Cancer Society integrating scientific information from worldwide sources for all oncologic specialties. The objective of CANCER is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of information among oncologic disciplines concerned with the etiology, course, and treatment of human cancer. CANCER is published on behalf of the American Cancer Society by Wiley and can be accessed online. Follow CANCER on Twitter @JournalCancer and Instagram @ACSJournalCancer, and stay up to date with the American Cancer Society Journals on LinkedIn.

About Wiley
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