Vassar Brothers Medical Center esophageal cancer care team earns highest quality rating

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Vassar Brothers Medical Center is one of only several hospitals in the United States with a three-star rating for esophagectomy procedures from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons

The esophageal cancer care team at Nuvance Health’s Vassar Brothers Medical Center (VBMC) achieved a three-star rating for esophagectomy procedures from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), which is the highest rating possible. An esophagectomy is the main surgical treatment for esophageal cancer.


According to the STS database, only three out of 100 hospitals in the United States that publicly reported their esophagectomy outcomes achieved a three-star rating during the last reporting period.


To determine star ratings, STS evaluates overall quality of esophagectomies, including absence of major complications and mortality. In addition, a surgical team must perform a minimum of 15 esophagectomies during a three-year reporting period.


An esophagectomy is a complex procedure that can take about six hours. Highly specialized thoracic, gastrointestinal (GI) and occasionally head and neck surgeons remove some or most of the esophagus depending on the cancer stage and location. The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.


Dr. Faiz Bhora and Dr. Cliff Connery perform the thoracic part of the procedure involving the esophagus and chest. Dr. Bhora is the chief of thoracic surgery and thoracic oncology program at Nuvance Health. Dr. Connery is senior vice president and system chair of the Cancer Institute at Nuvance Health.


Dr. James Nitzkorski, surgical oncologist specializing in colorectal and GI cancers, performs the abdominal part of the procedure involving the intestines and stomach.


Dr. Al Haitham Al Shetawi, oral, maxillofacial, head and neck surgeon, may be involved in the mouth and throat part of the procedure if necessary.


Nuvance Health recently welcomed a new team member Dr. Jawad Latif, site chief of thoracic surgery at VBMC, who has extensive esophagectomy experience. Dr. Joanne Sun, thoracic surgeon, is also an integral member of the team.


(Left to Right) Dr. Al Haitham Al Shetawi, Dr. James Nitzkorski, Dr. Cliff Connery
(Left to Right) Dr. Al Haitham Al Shetawi, Dr. James Nitzkorski, Dr. Cliff Connery


(Left to Right) Dr. Faiz Bhora, Dr. Jawad Latif
(Left to Right) Dr. Faiz Bhora, Dr. Jawad Latif

Dr. Joanne Sun
Dr. Joanne Sun


“Effective treatment for esophageal cancer is truly a team effort at VBMC. The STS star rating is an accomplishment for the Cancer Institute, surgery, medicine, rehabilitation and more. The rating demonstrates our collective attention to detail and careful pre- and post-operative planning that is essential for great patient outcomes,” said Dr. Connery.


Esophageal cancer is difficult to diagnose early because it typically does not cause symptoms until an advanced stage. A patient may have chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both before surgery to shrink the tumor.


“Coordinated care with medical, radiation and surgical oncologists, nurses, nutritionists and physical therapists is imperative to optimizing patient outcomes. We also work closely with medical specialists because most people with esophageal cancer are older and have several other health problems,” said Dr. Connery. “We are fortunate to have many talented specialists and the latest cancer treatment options at VBMC so patients consistently get collaborative, comprehensive and quality care.”


The latest surgical oncology options include minimally invasive approaches such as robotic surgery for eligible patients. Compared to open surgery, patients leave the hospital sooner, have less pain and heal faster after robotic surgery because it requires only small incisions.


Esophageal cancer is rare with most cases occurring in people over age 55. While there has been a slight decrease in overall cases, esophageal cancer diagnoses are increasing among people younger than age 50. Alcohol and tobacco use, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s esophagus and obesity are major risk factors for esophageal cancer.


Learn more about esophageal cancer care at Nuvance Health’s Cancer Institute.