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Are Patients Reaping the Benefits of Cancer Advancements?

Cancer care is clearly becoming more complex — and the world isn’t standing still to wait for patients or their health care professionals to catch up.
BY Len Lichtenfeld, MD
PUBLISHED May 20, 2016
I’m constantly reading about advancements in cancer care, but how do I know that my doctor has digested all of this new information and is ready to apply it? How can we, as patients, be confident that we’re getting state-of-the-art cancer care?

Cancer care is clearly becoming more complex — and the world isn’t standing still to wait for patients or their health care professionals to catch up. Practices are moving to larger organizations and hospitals, treatments are becoming more personalized, new drugs are rapidly moving into patient care and insurance plans and networks are in a state of flux.

Recently, when attending a major cancer conference focused on treatment recommendations for patients with cancer, I was struck by how much guidelines have changed. What used to be pretty straightforward is now draped in new discoveries, the application of targeted treatments and immunotherapy, and more awareness of what drugs will work in which patients.

This all begs a question that I have been pondering, and to which I don’t believe there is a simple answer: How are patients and health professionals going to get their arms around this explosion of information and options quickly? How are we going to translate new knowledge that may significantly impact cancer patients as quickly as possible for someone who needs to benefit from that knowledge right now?

In the past, we usually let research settle in over a period of time, allowing it to be digested by experts and then filter out to the professional community. Now, we live in real time. It’s not just social media that happens quickly, it’s cancer care, as well.

Patients and families want to know they are getting the best care. We need systems that can monitor care more effectively and point out what needs to be done (and what doesn’t need to be done) right then and there. Maybe we even need artificial intelligence to soak up all the information about a person, examine the options and modify treatment recommendations in the examining and treatment rooms. It may be a genetic marker, it may be their age, it may be their performance status or it may be their personal preferences that help define a direction.

Whatever those personal details may be, we need to find ways to make them part of the treatment equation. We are going to see considerable change to the way we treat cancer, and in the way we deliver that care. Hopefully, we will have the wisdom to improve care and not disrupt it irreparably.

Too many lives depend on everyone getting this right, and that is going to require no small amount of effort by patients and health professionals alike.

- Len Lichtenfeld, MD
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