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Tumor Boards May Not Impact Care for mesothelioma or Other Diseases

team of medical professionalsIf you’ve recently been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma or another type of asbestos-related cancer, you want to make sure that you have the best medical treatment possible. This means that you need care from more than just your general practitioner. You will need an entire team behind you, which can include surgeons, dietitians, nurses or other professionals.

Throughout the U.S., many hospitals use what are referred to as tumor boards, or multidisciplinary opinion, in order to decide upon the best care for cancer patients. However, one recent study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), questions how much of an impact these tumor boards actually have on patient care.

Boards bring experts together
Providers from the Sutter Health system in California describe tumor boards as a group of medical professionals who meet regularly in order to discuss the diagnoses and treatments of individual patients. These teams may include medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurse oncologists, social workers, dietitians, patients’ primary care doctors and more.

Conversations may also touch upon the latest available information on therapeutic options and clinical trials. In addition to addressing patients’ treatment, tumor boards also provide an opportunity for continuing medical education to all who attend them.

Different medical providers will conduct their tumor boards in a different fashion. Some may meet in person while others gather in virtual, online forums. The regularity with which tumor boards meet may also vary.

Researchers investigate links between tumor boards and care
One team of scientists from Harvard Medical School decided to study the impact that the presence of a tumor board within a healthcare system had on the care of cancer patients. For their research, they analyzed information collected from the tumor boards of 138 medical centers within the Veterans Affairs (VA) network. They gauged stage-specific cancer care based on information from cancer registries and administrative data.

The scope of the review encompassed malignant diseases of the lungs, prostate, breast, circulatory system and colorectal regions.

Results showed that there was only a modest association between the presence of tumor board and the type of care given to patients.

“This could mean that tumor boards did not, in fact, influence quality of cancer care in the VA setting,” the scientists wrote in the JNCI. “Additional research is needed to understand the structure and format of tumor boards that lead to the highest quality care.”

What does this mean for those exposed to asbestos?
However, these results do not necessarily mean that tumor boards serve no purpose at all. Douglas Blayney, M.D., of the Stanford School of Medicine wrote an editorial commenting on the Harvard study, in which he argued that the impact of a tumor board may not be easy to measure in systems such as the VA network because they are large and more integrated in their care. Instead, tumor boards may make a more discernible difference within smaller medical facilities.

“[U]ntil there is carefully constructed public reporting of process adherence and outcome, we are left to hope that cancer doctors, their leaders, and the systems that they build will use recognized measures of structure and process and work toward superior outcomes,” Blayney wrote in the JNCI.

If you have a malignant disease that was caused by exposure to asbestos, a tumor board may make more of a difference if you receive care from a smaller cancer center. However, if you are part of a larger medical group, the tumor board may still serve a purpose because this is an opportunity for healthcare professionals to learn about the best way to tackle diseases like yours.

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