Medical Oncology: Individualized Plan
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Your individualized chemotherapy regime
The type of cancer treatment you receive will be based on several different factors, including the type and stage of the cancer, your symptoms, blood counts, as well as your age, general health, and other factors. The Department of Medical Oncology provides chemotherapy as its primary cancer treatment.
There are many different chemotherapy drugs, each which interfere with cell growth at a different step. If chemotherapy is part of your treatment plan, your medical oncologist will coordinate your dosage and schedule. Each cancer type has chemotherapy regimens associated with it that have been studied for efficacy. Your treatment regime will be based on your cancer type, stage, location, and symptoms, as well as your individual needs and preferences.
“We look at the type of chemotherapy that is thought to be best for that particular tumor. We look at how healthy the patient is, what they will tolerate, and what they have been treated with in the past. We treat each patient individually,” says Dr. Brunk.
Depending on your treatment plan, you may receive chemotherapy alone, or in combination with other treatment modalities like surgery and/or radiation therapy. For instance, your medical oncologist may recommend chemotherapy before surgery (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy) to shrink a tumor, or after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to destroy remaining cancer cells in the body.
Chemotherapy may also be an option if the cancer has metastasized (spread) or recurred (returned). In addition, you may receive chemotherapy as a maintenance therapy after your treatment is complete if you are at a high risk for recurrence.
To receive your chemotherapy treatments, you’ll visit the Infusion Center on the third floor of the hospital. Designed with your needs in mind, the Infusion Center at Eastern is a calming environment that inspires relaxation. While you are there, a staff of kind, attentive infusion nurses will cater to your needs and make you as comfortable as possible.
Throughout your care, your medical oncologist will work closely with you to monitor your chemotherapy regime to make sure it continues to work for you. “We look at each patient and see whether or not [the treatment] worked or not. If it works, we keep going. If it doesn’t, we modify it or switch to something else. It’s a matter of trying to find something that helps a person at a dosage that they tolerate,” says Dr. Brunk.
For example, your medical oncologist may use tumor markers to monitor your treatment plan. Tumor markers (e.g., CA 125, CA 15-3, and PSA) are substances found in the blood, body fluids or tissues, which are produced by cancer cells. Tumor markers can be used to detect the presence of certain types of cancer in the body and to determine if your current treatment is working.
Coordinating your treatment plan
As the lead member of your care team, your medical oncologist will coordinate your treatment plan, which will include a combination of multi-modality methods. “A patient comes in and their medical oncologist is sort of the point person. We determine who they need to see, how they need to be seen, and what we will do for them. The medical oncologist can kind of pull those things together,” says Dr. Brunk.
“It is a level playing ground in terms of input from all of the clinicians. That applies throughout the process from the very beginning when patients first come through the door. They see a naturopathic doctor and nutritionist here at the center just like they see me, the medical oncologist. And, I might send them down the hall to the surgeon and radiation therapist, and so on,” says Dr. Willis.