Tumor Boards Focus on Best Treatments
Martha See, RHIT, CTRManager, Cancer Registry Services
When the diagnosis is cancer, patients want the best possible treatment options. Through tumor board conferences, physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer come together with one goal in mind — to share their expertise and recommend the optimal treatment plan for each patient. Martha See, RHIT, CTR, discusses the role of tumor boards.
Q. What is a tumor board? A tumor board is a group of specialists who meet regularly to discuss managing treatment for patients who have cancer. At the tumor board conferences, physicians from a variety of disciplines discuss patient cases to decide on the best course of treatment.
Although patients have one primary oncologist who supervises their care, their treatment plans are actually the result of input from a multidisciplinary team of medical experts. This allows the physician who is coordinating the patient’s treatment to gain input from many healthcare professionals in many specialties. Through the collective knowledge of the tumor board, the best possible ideas relevant to each patient’s care are thoroughly evaluated before treatment recommendations are made.
Tumor boards also provide a forum to educate physicians, fellows, nurses and other staff who provide care for cancer patients.
Q. Who is involved? Regular tumor board participants include physicians who specialize in diagnostic radiology, pathology, surgery, medical oncology and radiation oncology. The patient’s type of cancer, however, often dictates which specialists attend. Some patients, for example, do not require radiation therapy, so specialists in that area are not required. Each board has specific physicians who attend.
Q. What role do these specialists play in caring for cancer patients?These physicians specialize in diagnosing and treating many forms of cancer. Cancer is diagnosed through various imaging methods and through a microscope. Pathologists and diagnostic radiologists have expertise in diagnosing cancer. A pathologist is a physician who is highly trained in the origin and development of disease and the microscopic analysis of body tissues. A diagnostic radiologist makes and interprets diagnostic images such as X-ray, nuclear radiology, ultrasound and MRI. They also confer with other physicians to diagnose disease.
Cancer treatment may include chemotherapy (drugs), radiation therapy, surgery or a combination of these treatments. A medical oncologist is a physician who is specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer and who specializes in the use of chemotherapy and other drugs to treat cancer. The medical oncologist often serves as the main caretaker of someone who has cancer and coordinates treatment provided by other specialists.
A radiation oncologist is a physician who specializes in treating cancer with radiation therapy, and a surgeon removes cancerous tumors.
Q. What happens at the tumor board conferences? The physicians present a particular patient case to obtain guidance and assistance from the many specialists. X-ray scans, MRI scans and pathology slides are reviewed, and the surgeon discusses surgery that may have been done or if surgery is practical for the patient. The physicians combine their expertise to give each patient the best chance for recovery.
Q. Why are these conferences important? Tumor boards enhance patient care by bringing the experience and unique perspective of many specialists together to discuss individual patient cases. This helps to improve care for cancer patients and, at the same time, provides education for staff. In addition, as a Cancer Center approved by the American College of Surgeons, we are required to meet certain standards, including holding weekly cancer conferences that provide a forum for patient consultation and contribute to physician education.
Certified registrars in our Cancer Registry collect data on all cancer patients receiving care at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin — from diagnosis on. The data are reported to the state of Wisconsin and to the national cancer database of the American College of Surgeons. The Cancer Registry staff consists of five full-time, CTR (certified tumor registrar) credentialed registrars who coordinate and attend weekly tumor boards.
Source: Every Day, Interview with Martha See, RHIT, CTR
Date: Aug - Dec 2006