Despite the high risk of postoperative complications and/or death, radical cystectomy (RC) is currently considered as the standard of care for patients with muscle-invasive bladder cancer (MIBC) without clinical evidence of metastases at initial diagnosis. As an alternative, trimodality bladder-sparing therapy with a potentially more favourable toxicity profile has been developed over recent decades, but definitive surgery may provide better cancer control outcomes, especially in fit individuals. Consequently, efforts have been made recently to improve RC quality by introducing new concepts in the perioperative management of patients with MIBC. For example, the implementation of robot-assisted techniques and enhanced recovery protocols may help to reduce surgical stress and facilitate discharge after early rehabilitation. Nonetheless, such valuable interventions are more likely to be delivered at expert centres in MIBC management.
Interestingly, given that surgical experience mostly comes from surgical volume, numerous studies suggest that there is an inverse relationship between hospital as well as surgeon volume and morbidities for major surgeries including RC. Specifically, a recent meta-analysis showed that high-volume hospitals (odds ratio [OR] 0.55, 95% CI: 0.44–0.69; P < 0.001) and surgeons (OR 0.58, 95% CI: 0.46–0.73; P < 0.001) were significantly associated with a lower risk of death after RC . As a result, centralisation of RC at high-output centres has been advocated worldwide to optimise perioperative management of patients with MIBC and improve short-term outcomes.
In this issue of the BJUI, Afshar et al.  eloquently show that such a healthcare policy can be effective at the population level. The authors impressively collected perioperative information on >15 000 RC patients from the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) dataset in England, where the ‘Improving Outcomes Guidance’ (IOG) programme recommends since 2002 that RC should be performed by surgeons operating at least five cases per year at centres carrying out ≥50 procedures per year. Interestingly, they found that the proportion of RC performed in discordance with IOG guidelines decreased from 60.7% in 2003 to 12.4% in 2013. This resulted in a significant improvement in the overall 30-day crude mortality rate, with a reduction from 2.7% to 1.5% over the 11-year period (P = 0.02). After adjusting for available confounding, RC patients in the non-IOG-compliant group were more likely to die at 30 days (OR 1.41, 95% CI: 1.13–1.76) or 1 year (OR 1.31, 95% CI: 1.21–1.43) as compared to those in the IOG-compliant group. When analysing the incremental effect of hospital volume, each extra RC per year reduced the risk of death at 30 days and 1 year by 1.5% (OR 0.985, 95% CI: 0.977–0.992) and 1% (OR 0.990, 95% CI: 0.988–0.993), respectively. Although there was no significant difference in the odds of postoperative complications between the two groups (OR 0.96, 95% CI: 0.88–1.04), the risk of re-intervention was higher in the non-IOG-compliant group (OR 1.20, 95% CI: 1.12–1.30). It is noteworthy that, as observed for the risk of death, each extra RC decreased the risk of re-intervention (OR 0.99, 95% CI: 0.991–0.995). In conclusion, the findings by Afshar et al.  suggest that urologists have embraced centralisation of care for RC patients in England and this is likely to have positively affected the short-term outcomes.
Although, as acknowledged by the authors, many limitations related to the administrative nature of the HES dataset (e.g. missing data or coding errors) may have influenced the aforementioned results, other reports from the USA are consistent with this study. Specifically, it has been estimated that up to 40% of the decline in 30-day mortality after RC from 2000 to 2008 was attributable to centralisation of care . In addition, other RC quality criteria, such as adequate pelvic lymph node dissection at the time of surgery, have improved after similar centralisation in the Netherlands between 2006 and 2012 . As such, centralisation of RC offers many undisputable advantages, but given that travel distance to the treating facility may represent an important barrier for patients with MIBC seeking surgical care, concerns have been raised with regards to potential drawbacks, including increased time to definitive surgery. However, a recent report from the USA showed that, although centralisation of RC has led to a decrease overall access to the treating facilities, the process simultaneously improved access to high-volume centres . It is noteworthy that hospital volume standards for centralisation of RC should not be set too high to avoid unreasonable travel burdens on patients with MIBC .
To summarise, centralisation of care is arguably the best way to go, to continue improving quality of RC and its associated short-term outcomes in the near future. Despite inherent limitations, virtually all available evidence, including the study by Afshar et al. , converge toward the general concept that RC patients should be managed by experienced urologists operating at expert centres with trained surgical teams.