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October 27 2018

Care conferences bring medical experts together to develop personalized care plans for patients

By M. Ali Raza, MD

Every cancer diagnosis is highly personal. Every patient is unique, and responds to treatment in their own way. The complexity of the disease and potential treatment options make treating cancer a team effort.

Multidisciplinary care conferences, also known as tumor boards, are essential for bringing medical professionals together to evaluate and discuss cancer treatment options for their patients. 

The composition of each group of participants varies, depending on the cancer diagnosis to be discussed and organs impacted. Care conferences include medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, radiologists and pathologists. Pharmacists, dietitians, genetic counselors, social workers and research staff may also participate in discussion.
It’s common for a patient’s case to be presented at a tumor board meeting shortly after diagnosis and before the start of treatment. In some cases, a patient’s treatment options are very straightforward and treatment can be started before the providers meet. 

Prior to a care conference, the medical team involved thoroughly reviews the patient’s medical information. When the team meets, each medical expert presents specific information about the patient’s medical status and care related to their area of expertise.

Patient care at the forefront

When the providers are together, every aspect of discussion reflects a deep commitment to providing optimal patient care. The group considers the type and stage of disease, carefully reviews imaging and other test results, discusses current research related to the patient’s case, and looks at treatment options and recommendations.

The discussion is dynamic, with all options on the table. The goal is for everyone’s medical opinion to be considered and for consensus to be reached on the best plan of care for the patient.

The medical oncologist or the patient’s surgeon shares treatment recommendations and care conference findings with the patient. Most patients are relieved to learn that an experienced medical team has come together to discuss and recommend medical care specifically for them.

A patient’s case may be presented again in the future as aspects of their case change.

Molecular tumor boards

For many cancer patients, the best treatment plans follow standard guidelines that include one or more surgical, chemotherapy or radiation therapy options. Other times, unique features in a patient’s cancer cells call for a deeper look at the causes of the disease and a wider range of treatment considerations.

These cases are discussed at molecular tumor boards. Members of a molecular tumor board recognize that every type of cancer has an Achilles heel, which, when found, can be leveraged through a comprehensive analysis of cellular characteristics, research and science.

At this level of care, specialists from multiple medical institutions discuss the genetic structure of a patient’s tumor, drill down to the cancer-causing defects inside the cancer cells, and discuss all the latest treatment options. Options may include medications and highly targeted clinical trials. The goal is to further personalize therapy while minimizing side effects and improving results.

Care conferences have a secondary purpose. They also provide a structured space for medical professionals to share and exchange knowledge directly with each other.

It’s often said that in medicine, knowledge and treatment advances change so fast that new treatments become standard within four years. In cancer care, it seems this period is closer to four months. Care conferences are one of the best examples of this principle.

Multidisciplinary care conferences bring multiple skilled and experienced specialists together to share state-of-art medical advances and develop personalized treatment plans for the benefit of patients in our own community. 

M. Ali Raza, MD, is a medical oncologist and hematologist with ProHealth Medical Group. He sees patients at the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care in Pewaukee and Mukwonago.
Visit ProHealthCare.org/Cancer to learn more about cancer services at ProHealth Care.

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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.