Tumor boards - a multidisciplinary group of doctors who review complex cases like cancer.

Tumor boards. What are they, and should we care?

Tumor Boards. What are they and why should we care.

As a breast cancer patient, over time I learned how to advocate for myself. Our oncologists are incredible human-beings who have dedicated their careers to savings our lives. They often manage hundreds and thousands of patients. It becomes our imperative to tell them what our desires and our goals are. As patients and caregivers we don’t fully recognize that our desires and goals also determine what treatment option is appropriate for us. Once we have communicated our goals - be it extending our timeoptimizing our quality of life, or reducing our suffering, we are expected to partner with our oncologists to make decisions. 

Given how complex cancer care has gotten even our oncologist often relies on their colleagues with other specialities to help explore our options. One of the most effective tools to make decisions in the cancer space is the tumor board. I requested my case be taken to the tumor board at every critical decision juncture.  

Let’s start with what a tumor board is.

A tumor board is a group of multi-disciplinary doctors who meet and discuss treatment options for individual cancer patients. Typically, a tumor board includes different backgroundsspecialties, and expertise. This can include surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, and medical oncologists. The interdisciplinary nature of a tumor board is critical to its success. The goal of a tumor board is to surface fresh, new, and different perspectives than the standard of care. It also serves as a way to disseminate cutting edge knowledge across doctors. 

Let’s discuss why a patient can benefit from having a tumor board review. 

Unlike any other medical discipline, cancer care changes all the time. No matter how intelligent, dedicated, or hard-working our doctors are, keeping up with the latest is often difficult. Cancer diagnosis and treatment have also evolved to become incredibly individualized. With the proliferation of tumor-specific diagnostic and treatment modalities, personalized care is here. This makes decision making a lot more complex. Given the goal we patient’s and caregivers set, having multiple clinicians look our our medical case can result in better and appropriate treatment options that can help us achieve our goal. This often includes clinical trials as well. 

What this means is if you or someone you care about is undergoing treatment, ask your clinicians about their tumor board. Ask them how their tumor board works, and whether they can take your case to tumor board.

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