Cancer affects every single aspect of a person’s life: How will I look to myself and to others? How will I feel? How will I cope? What will I do about work? What will my friends think? Will I even want to leave the house? Will my family think I am a burden?
Treatment also is incredibly complex. It can involve surgery, followed by several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, which can last hours at a single session. Patients may be cared for by up to a dozen specialists. Can you imagine the difficulty and stress of navigating all these different appointments in different locations, never being 100 percent certain that everything is being communicated the way it should be – on top of dealing with a diagnosis of cancer?
OVER THE PAST 30 years, leading institutions such as the National Cancer Institute and the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer have recognized that there’s a better way of providing cancer care.
Patients are more satisfied with their care, have a much better experience and receive higher quality, evidence-based medicine when a cancer center offers multidisciplinary clinics.
Imagine 10 or 12 cancer experts, all working with you, the patient, to talk about and come up with the treatment plan that’s right for you. When every key player is sitting around the same table – patients, families, oncologists, surgeons, radiation specialists, dietitians, social workers, nurses, therapists, chaplains, psychologists and navigators (nurses who serve as your main contact throughout treatment) – the result is a plan that takes care of the “whole” you, not just your cancer.
I’VE SEEN THE benefits of multidisciplinary clinics during my 22-plus years with the National Institutes of Health and other cancer centers I have led. Patients have less stress and anxiety because the care and treatment is easier. You make one phone call to a navigator to schedule appointments. A holistic plan equips you and your family to deal with issues related to nutrition, spirituality, stress, anxiety, side effects and other aspects of cancer treatment. And you have the peace of mind of knowing that all members of your cancer team are communicating with each other and working together.
Our multidisciplinary approach to cancer care is only the first step. As we work toward becoming Georgia’s second National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, our goal is to provide the latest, most innovative treatments for cancers that affect Georgians in particular, including clinical trials, as well as basic and translational sciences, which can speed new discoveries and state-of-the-art therapies to our patients. The result will be more care options and better cancer care focused on the citizens of this state.
(The writer is director of the Georgia Health Sciences University Cancer Center.)