Is knowledge translation adequate? A quality assurance study of staging investigations in early stage breast cancer patients.
After primary surgery, patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer undergo radiological investigations based on pathologic stage of disease to rule out distant metastases. Published guidelines can aid clinicians in determining which tests are appropriate based on stage of disease. We wished to assess the consistency of radiological staging in an academic community oncology setting with standard guidelines and to determine the overall impact of non-adherence to these guidelines. A retrospective cohort study was conducted for new breast cancer patients seen at a single institution between January 2009 and April 2010. Patients were included if initial diagnosis and primary surgery was at this institution. Pathologic stage and radiological tests completed were recorded. A literature review was performed and the results were compared with those from this study to determine overall adherence rates. Subsequently, a cost analysis was performed to determine the financial impact at this centre. 231 patients met eligibility criteria for inclusion in this study. A large proportion of patients were over-staged with 129 patients (55%) undergoing unnecessary investigations according to guidelines. Specifically, 59% of stage I patients and 58% of stage II patients were over-investigated. Distant metastases at the time of diagnosis were found in three patients, all of whom had stage III disease (1.3%). The literature reviewed revealed similar non-adherence rates in other centres. The estimated cost of such non-adherence is in the range of $78 (CDN) per new early stage breast cancer patient seen at this centre. This oncology centre has a low adherence to practice guidelines for staging investigations in breast cancer patients, with 55% of patients undergoing unnecessary tests. Very few patients had metastases at diagnosis, and all had pathological stage III disease. Efforts may need to focus on improving knowledge translation across clinical oncology settings to increase guideline adherence.