Laparoscopic colon surgery may keep older patients independent longer

Major finding: Of those older patients who had open surgery, 20% were discharged to a nursing facility, compared with 12.5% of the laparoscopy group, a significant difference.

Data source: The study included data on 9,416 patients.

Disclosures: Dr. Richard Liu had no financial disclosures.



WASHINGTON – Elderly patients who undergo laparoscopic colon surgery are significantly more likely to be discharged back to their homes than to a long-term care facility.

In a retrospective study of almost 10,000 elderly patients, 12.5% of those who had a laparoscopic procedure went to a nursing home, compared with 20% of those who had open surgery. In a multivariate analysis, laparoscopic surgery was associated with a significant, 39% decrease in the risk of being discharged to a nursing home, Dr. Richard Liu said at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Richard Liu

"For patients in their early 70s who do not have advanced disease or significant comorbidities, laparoscopic colon cancer resection is an option not only to prolong survival but also to preserve quality of life," said Dr. Liu, a surgical resident at Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.

The study highlights some important differences in the ways surgeons and patients perceive surgical outcomes. Surgeons and researchers often focus on 5-year survival rates and short-term morbidity and mortality, Dr. Liu said. But prior research done by his group found that immediate quality of life was at least as important to elderly patients – and sometimes more so.

"We have looked at elderly patients in our emergency services and followed up with them several times after admission," he said in an interview. "A common theme that came up was quality of life after hospitalization. Some were actually refusing to have operations for fear of what might become of them afterward."

Dr. Liu’s study comprised 9,416 patients from the U.S. National Inpatient Sample database. All were older than 70 years (mean age 79) and all were living independently at home. They underwent elective colon surgery during 2009-2010 for either cancer or a resection. The primary outcome was discharge back to home or to a long-term care facility. None of the patients were discharged to home health care or to hospice.

Most of the group (61%) had open surgery; the remainder had laparoscopy. Of those who had open surgery, 20% were discharged to a nursing facility, compared with 12.5% of the laparoscopy group – a significant difference.

Laparoscopy significantly decreased the chance of a nursing home admission by 39% in a multivariate analysis that controlled for age, sex, race, comorbidity score, cancer stage, income and insurance, and hospital size.

Factors significantly associated with nursing home discharge included advancing age and cancer stage.

Generally speaking, open surgery is physically more trying for elderly patients. A difficult recovery could be just enough to tip them over the edge from independent living, Dr. Liu said.

Dr. Liu had no financial disclosures.

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