No one expects a cancer diagnosis, but statistics suggest that nearly half of men and one-third of women in the U.S. will face cancer at some point in their lives.
Fortunately, advances in cancer treatment mean more patients than ever before are beating the disease. But cancer treatment is complex and requires an array of providers armed with the skills and expertise to provide each patient with the individualized care they need.
“It’s a team approach from the very beginning,” says Dr. Sara Adams, an oncologist at Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, an affiliate of MUSC Health and our region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care. “A cancer patient is supported by a multidisciplinary team that works together to achieve the best outcome.”
Treatment planning starts immediately once a patient is diagnosed with the disease. Patient coordinators work behind the scenes to obtain patient records and diagnostic testing results.
“They make sure everything we need is here and ready before the patient arrives to begin treatment,” Dr. Adams says.
Once patients begin treatment, oncology-certified nurse navigators guide them through the process. Depending on the type and location of the cancer, a patient’s treatment plan can call for surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy. Often, a combination of approaches is necessary.
“Nurse navigators help patients understand the process and serve as a central point of contact and support,” Dr. Adams says. “They stand alongside our patients every step of the way.”
The support provided by nurse navigators often extends beyond medical needs. For example, some patients may need help arranging transportation to appointments.
“Some patients have robust support systems in place, while others may need some help with the practical challenges that can arise during cancer treatment,” Dr. Adams says. “The nurse navigator helps ensure any needs are met.”
Since cancer treatment can be complex, nurse navigators also serve as a translator of sorts.
“They educate patients about what to expect in their journey with cancer,” Dr. Adams says.
A comprehensive team
Although physicians, nurses, technicians and nurse navigators are the most visible members of a patient’s care team, there are many other people involved who a patient may never meet.
Among them are members of Tidelands Health tumor boards, which convene to discuss every breast cancer case as well as other complex cancer cases. Along with medical and radiation oncologists, the tumor boards include surgeons, pathologists, clinical trial coordinators and other medical professionals.
“The tumor boards leverage the expertise of a team people from a broad range of disciplines to review a patient’s case and help ensure the individual is getting the best possible care,” Dr. Adams says. “In addition, our clinical trial coordinator will listen in to see if clinical trials will benefit the patient.”
Other clinicians who have a less visible but extremely important role in a patient’s care at Tidelands Health include:
• Palliative care providers, who help manage pain,
• Nutritionists, who recommend a diet to support cancer treatment,
• Rehabilitation therapists, who work with patients to improve physical endurance,
• Radiation physicists and dosimetrists, who manage radiation treatment, and
• Financial counselors, who help patients understand insurance benefits.
“Having these resources does a lot for the patient,” Dr. Adams says. “Along with meeting the physical needs associated with a cancer diagnosis, this type of multidisciplinary team approach to treatment allows patients to feel confident all their needs will be met and addressed.”
Dr. Sara Adams
Oncologist, Tidelands Health Oncology
MUSC – Charleston, Oncology