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Skilled Surgeons and Colon Cancer Survival with Karl Bilimoria, MD, and Brian Brajcich, MD

A recent Northwestern Medicine study published in JAMA Oncology found colon cancer patients whose surgery was performed by a highly skilled surgeon had a significantly lower risk of dying over five years compared to patients with a lower skilled surgeon. Study authors Karl Bilimoria, MD, and Brian Brajcich, MD, explain.


"After we finish our residencies, we don't get a lot of feedback on our technical skills. So, I think this provides new insight into how we're doing, with opportunities for improvement and some guidance."

Karl Bilimoria, MD, ’08 MS, ’10 GME

  • Vice Chair for Quality, Department of Surgery
  • John Benjamin Murphy Professor of Surgery
  • Professor of Surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology
  • Vice President for Quality and Information Services, NMHC
  • Director of the Surgical Outcomes and Quality Improvement Center of Northwestern University 
Karl Bilimoria, MD

Episode Notes

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, with more than 100,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Surgery is often the primary treatment. A new Northwestern Medicine study shows patients whose surgery was performed by a highly skilled surgeon had a significantly lower risk of dying over five years compared to patients with a lower skilled surgeon. 

Topics covered in this episode: 
  • This is the first study, to the authors’ knowledge, to demonstrate the importance of surgeon skill in long-term outcomes among patients undergoing cancer treatment surgery.
  • The authors explain how they assessed the skill of surgeons performing colon cancer surgery by reviewing recordings of their surgeries directly from scopes inserted into the patients' abdomens. 

  • A surgeon’s technical skill was scored based on review of footage by other surgeons, including peers and expert reviewers. The outcomes of patients treated by surgeons with higher and lower skill scores were then compared. 

  • Those deemed highly skilled removed more lymph nodes and were more likely to remove all of the colon tumor.

  • Surgeons who participated reported that they enjoyed feedback from their peers, some saying it was the "best thing they had done in their career to improve their practice."

  • The research team plans to pursue similar projects with other types of surgeries and to offer surgeons feedback, facilitate peer discussions and determine whether that interaction can improve technical scores and patient outcomes.
Additional Reading:
  • Read the paper in JAMA Oncology

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Continuing Medical Education Credit

Physicians who listen to this podcast may claim continuing medical education credit after listening to an episode of this program.

Target Audience

Academic/Research, Multiple specialties

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify the research interests and initiatives of Feinberg faculty.
  2. Discuss new updates in clinical and translational research.
Accreditation Statement

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

Credit Designation Statement

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine designates this Enduring Material for a maximum of 0.25 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Disclosure Statement

Karl Bilimoria, MD, MS, and Brian Brajcich, MD, have nothing to disclose. Course director, Robert Rosa, MD, has nothing to disclose. Planning committee member, Erin Spain, has nothing to disclose. Feinberg School of Medicine's CME Leadership and Staff have nothing to disclose: Clara J. Schroedl, MD, Medical Director of CME, Sheryl Corey, Manager of CME, Allison McCollum, Senior Program Coordinator, and Rhea Alexis Banks, Administrative Assistant 2.

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