Breast cancer patients get help from team of specialists
News & Record (Greensboro, NC)
Oct. 10--GREENSBORO -- The newest treatment option for breast cancer at Cone Health isn't centered around drugs or radiation. It's a methodology that brings all the specialists together at one time and place, both to consult on the treatment plan and to communicate that plan to the patient.
It's called the Breast Multidisciplinary Clinic, and it's held every Wednesday at the Alight Breast Cancer Center at Cone Health Cancer Center. Patients who choose this care are served by a team that includes a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, nurse navigator, physical therapist, and a patient-and-family-support professional.
"It's treating the whole person," says Tami Knutson, manager of the Breast Cancer Center.
The team meets to go over each patient's file to discuss treatment options and come up with a collaborative care plan. When a patient comes in, she may spend as long as 3 to 5 hours seeing each physician and consulting with the team on treatment and care.
While that might seem like a long time, Knutson said, they get through all their appointments in one afternoon, instead of scheduling them separately.
"When they leave, most of them have a pretty comprehensive care plan, including their diagnosis, clinical stage, the overall treatment regimen and the next step," Knutson said. "They have everything on one page."
Rita DeBusk, 64, a current patient, said the first visit was overwhelming, because you meet with so many people over the course of four hours.
"(I) felt like I should have had questions, but I was just in such a numb state," DeBusk said. "After I started to formulate the questions, I called the nurse navigator."
The nurse navigator is like an air traffic controller, making sure information is relayed to each member of the care team and helping connect the patient to other resources.
A social worker, dietician and psychologist are on site, as well as volunteers who have had the same experience.
"The nurse navigator is just a precious person," DeBusk said. "It seems like I talk to Dawn (Stuart) two or three or times a week -- everything from insurance questions to 'I'm going to have a meltdown in a couple of minutes.' It's a lot to handle."
DeBusk said the clinic is a tremendous resource for breast cancer patients because it brings all the needed resources together in one place.
"You're so anxious and your mind is such a muck, you can barely deal with yourself, much less think about you've got to see a surgeon and medical oncologist and radiation oncologist," DeBusk said. "A person who hasn't been through it, you don't know all the resources you're going to need. It's great to have somebody get that all together for you."
Patients diagnosed with breast cancer at Cone's two breast centers are offered the opportunity to be seen at the multidisciplinary clinic, which has been operating since January 2012. It's open to any breast cancer patient, subject to availability. Some patients come from as far away as Virginia to take advantage of the clinic.
"Traditionally, we diagnose about 600 patients per year (at Cone's two breast centers)," Knutson said. "We saw 247 at the clinic last year, but it was still new and people were just finding out about it. This year, we're closer to 400 patients. Most of newly diagnosed patients go this route."
Knutson thinks it's a concept that could be used elsewhere in the cancer center, as well as other disciplines.
"We feel very good about the care we give," Knutson said.
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