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SEATTLE, Wash. - (Sept. 14, 2007) - In two upcoming medical publications, the outcomes of esophageal cancer surgery performed at Virginia Mason Medical Center will be featured in General Surgery News and the peer-reviewed Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery. The publications will highlight the study outcomes of esophagectomy that Donald Low, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Virginia Mason Medical Center, presented at Digestive Disease Week in Washington, D.C. in May. It was at this conference, organized by four major medical societies, that the research outcomes were cited as among the best ever published for esophagectomies.

Average mortality rates for esophagectomy in U.S. hospitals have been reported as high as 10 to 20 percent. In 340 patients treated between 1991 and 2006, the 90-day mortality at Virginia Mason Medical Center was 0.3 percent. The single death in 15 years was in a patient undergoing resection for simultaneous esophageal and lung cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, the incidence of esophageal cancer in the U.S. is increasing. This is likely due to obesity and common gastrointestinal problems like acid reflux. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 15,560 new cases of esophageal cancer in 2007. While esophageal cancer only accounts for about 1 percent of total diagnosed cancers, the incidence rate is increasing and survival outcomes are grim.

Dr. Low’s outcomes also show significant improvement in five-year survival rates. When survival was assessed in patients treated between 1998 and 2002, slightly more than 50 percent of patients remained alive after five years. The five-year survival rate in stage I disease was 92.4 percent, stage II was 57.1 percent and stage III was 34.5 percent. According to P. Marco Fisichella, MD, Clinical Instructor in Surgery at University of California at San Francisco, the overall five-year survival rate for all stages of esophageal cancer is about 20 to 25 percent (as reported online at

“The treatment of esophageal cancer remains challenging; however, these results demonstrate that operative mortality and survival rates are improving, which is encouraging,” said Dr. Low.

Dr. Low attributes Virginia Mason’s successes to the team’s focus on applying standardized clinical pathways to guide a patient’s care from diagnosis to treatment. Through the Team Medicine approach, Virginia Mason ensures every esophageal cancer patient is treated by experts in the field and according to best practices.

Virginia Mason Medical Center
Virginia Mason Medical Center, founded in 1920, is a non-profit comprehensive regional health care system that combines a primary and specialty care group practice of more than 400 physicians with a 336-bed acute care hospital in Seattle. In addition, Virginia Mason has a network of clinics located throughout the Puget Sound area, and manages Bailey-Boushay House, a nursing residence and adult day health program for people living with HIV and AIDS. Virginia Mason also has an internationally recognized research center, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason. For more information, please visit

Alisha Mark
Media Relations
(206) 341-1509

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