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What is Multidisciplinary Care?

Multidisciplinary health care is an all-inclusive approach to managing patient health. It takes a more holistic approach to patient care that aims to treat the whole body and not just a single disease.

A 2021 research report summarized the advantages of multidisciplinary care and stated that a proactive and multimodal approach to symptom management was critical to improving patient outcomes and well-being.

This type of care is made possible when doctors from different areas of medicine hold regular meetings to discuss their patients’ care. The hospitals and cancer centers that encourage multidisciplinary team meetings tend to offer better overall care to people with cancer.

These team meetings have a positive impact on clinical decision-making because multiple specialists weigh in on the benefits and risks of treatment options. No one doctor can be expected to know everything. The multidisciplinary approach allows doctors to share their expertise and collaborate in ways that translate into better quality care for patients.

What Are the Benefits of a Multidisciplinary Approach?

Multidisciplinary care in hospital settings improves patient safety, survival and quality of life. Research reports the following benefits:

  • Reduced adverse events
  • Improved outcomes
  • Decreased length of hospital stays
  • Improved patient safety and satisfaction
  • Increased quality of life

A handful of small studies showed longer survival times for certain cancers, such as lung, ovarian, head and neck cancers, certain lymphomas, higher stage or locally advanced colorectal cancers, and breast cancer, when multidisciplinary care was used.

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What Is Multidisciplinary Cancer Care?

Modern cancer care uses more than one therapy to treat cancer because one treatment modality is rarely enough to control cancer. Surgery is associated with the longest survival times. Chemotherapy is the most common treatment because not everyone qualifies for surgery. Radiation therapy can improve survival times for many cancers, especially when combined with surgery.

The term “multimodal therapy” is used when more than one treatment is combined to fight cancer. While clinical studies show the best results can only be achieved with a multimodal approach, the combination of treatments isn’t without risk.

One type of cancer treatment alone has the potential to harm. When two or more therapies are combined, the risk of harm increases. These aggressive treatments require doctors to keep a close watch over their patients. When the doctors administering these treatments meet to discuss how a patient is responding, they can collaborate to identify warning signs and maintain patient safety.

A multidisciplinary health care team meets regularly to:

  • Discuss each patient’s case individually
  • Evaluate anticancer treatment options
  • Create multidisciplinary management plans for treatment
  • Collaborate on supportive care
  • Consider new therapies that may benefit a patient
  • Assess which clinical trials may help a particular patient

Multidisciplinary meetings to discuss care for mesothelioma patients are generally held once a week for 30 minutes to an hour. Each mesothelioma case is carefully reviewed and treatment plans are modified as necessary to optimize patient care.

What Types of Doctors Comprise a Multidisciplinary Care Team?

In order to treat mesothelioma with a multidisciplinary approach, a range of medical specialties is required.

A medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, pulmonologist, a diagnostic radiologist, pathologist, thoracic surgeon, dietitian and specialized nurse are the most common members of a mesothelioma multidisciplinary team. A variety of other doctors, such as hematologists or palliative care specialists, may also be among the caregivers generally expected to participate in the meetings.

Surgeons

Surgeons give mesothelioma patients the greatest chance of long-term survival. Thoracic surgeons operate on pleural mesothelioma patients and general surgeons specializing in peritoneal malignancy operate on peritoneal mesothelioma patients. Surgeons can answer any questions you have about the risks and benefits of mesothelioma surgery.

Medical Oncologists

Medical oncologists oversee chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment plans. These doctors often serve as the primary oncologist for mesothelioma patients and often serve as the primary clinical coordinator for the multimodality management of mesothelioma patients.

Radiation Oncologists

Radiation oncologists or thoracic radiotherapists administer radiation therapy. Not everyone with mesothelioma receives radiation therapy, but some specialty centers report longer mesothelioma survival when IMRT radiation is used as a treatment modality in select patients.

Diagnostic Radiologists

Diagnostic radiologists administer and interpret imaging scans such as X-rays, CT scans and PET scans. These imaging scans are used to diagnose mesothelioma and monitor the cancer.

Pathologists

Pathologists examine biopsy samples under a microscope to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. They sit in on meetings when a diagnosis of mesothelioma has already been confirmed. They also participate in cases where mesothelioma may be a suspected but not yet officially confirmed.

Palliative Care Specialists

Palliative care specialists help manage cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment. They prescribe medications and recommend therapies to improve quality of life such as occupational therapy. Cancer patients tend to live longer when they meet with a palliative care specialist soon after diagnosis.

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Pathologists

Pathologists examine biopsy samples under a microscope to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. They sit in on meetings when a diagnosis of mesothelioma has already been confirmed. They also participate in cases where mesothelioma may be a suspected but not yet officially confirmed.

Dietitians

As weight loss is a common complication among patients suffering from advanced cancer such as mesothelioma, a dietary specialist is often present to make recommendations on diet.

Gastroenterologists

Gastroenterologists keep an eye on gut health for people with peritoneal mesothelioma.

Pulmonologists

Pulmonologists closely monitor the lung health of people with pleural mesothelioma. A subspecialist in this field is generally responsible for assessing and managing pulmonary symptoms, as well as overall lung capacity.

The pulmonologist is also generally responsible for determining if a cancer patient with mesothelioma will have enough pulmonary reserve to survive a major thoracic operation.

Hematologists

Hematologists are blood specialists, and are often dual trained in the medical oncology. A hematologist will keep a close watch on a cancer patient’s blood cell counts to make sure the patient’s immune system is functioning well.

The hematologist will often work in concert with the radiation and medical oncologist to help manage treatment-induced complications that adversely affect the bone marrow where red cells, white cells and platelets are produced.

When a cancer patient experiences complications of anemia or a decrease in other normal circulating blood cells as a consequence of cancer treatment, the hematologist will often be the doctor who is responsible for the management of these issues.

They will let your oncologist know if your cell counts are too low to continue treatment. When you’re feeling fatigued, ask your hematologist if you blood cell counts may be responsible.

Nursing Specialists

Nursing specialists include nurse practitioners who assist pulmonologists, gastroenterologists, oncologists and other doctors with more advanced care.

Other health professionals who may participate in team meetings include:

  • Oncology dietitians
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Mental health therapists
  • Social workers

A patient’s primary care physician may communicate with the multidisciplinary team as well. Lab reports, checkups and other medical notes are often shared between a mesothelioma patient’s primary care physician and the multidisciplinary group.

Where Can I Find Multidisciplinary Care for Mesothelioma?

Not every hospital or cancer center offers a multidisciplinary approach in health care. Additionally, few centers specialize in mesothelioma treatment. Finding a cancer center that treats mesothelioma with a multidisciplinary approach isn’t easy.

The following mesothelioma cancer centers are renowned for their cutting-edge treatment and multidisciplinary approach to cancer care.

  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is home to the International Mesothelioma Program, which is the largest of its kind in the world. The program treats nearly 200 mesothelioma cases a year and is home to some of America’s leading mesothelioma surgeons, oncologists and radiologists.
  • H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida employs a diverse team of specialists to treat pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. The multidisciplinary mesothelioma team has surgeons and oncologists in addition to a hematologist, immunologist and interventional radiologist.
  • University of Chicago Medicine in Chicago is one of the world’s leading facilities for the advancement of mesothelioma treatment. The most effective chemotherapy treatment plan for mesothelioma was discovered here in 2002.
  • Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is a leader in mesothelioma research thanks to investments in innovative treatment and recruiting top mesothelioma specialists. For example, Dr. David Sugarbaker relocated from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he founded the International Mesothelioma Program, to Baylor College of Medicine to lead the Lung Institute.

Seeking health care from a mesothelioma cancer center that offers multidisciplinary care is worth the effort because it just might help you live longer. When a team of experts oversees your cancer care, you are less likely to experience adverse health events and more likely to experience improved outcomes from treatment.

Multidisciplinary care provides the comprehensive care people with mesothelioma need to not only maintain quality of life, but also extend life.


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