Advancing Cancer Care – The Multidisciplinary Approach at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center

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Advancing Cancer Care – The Multidisciplinary Approach at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center

When facing a cancer diagnosis, patients often find themselves navigating complex medical treatments, unfamiliar terminology and a multitude of healthcare providers. At OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center, a multidisciplinary model of care aims to ease this burden and provide a comprehensive, unified approach to cancer treatment.

Multidisciplinary care teams bring together experts from various fields to provide personalized care that addresses every aspect of a patient's journey. Because OU Health is Oklahoma’s only comprehensive academic health system, it has the resources and expertise to work as a team to come up with the best options for a patient.

"We consider the patient the center around which everything revolves," said Dr. Robert Mannel, M.D., director of OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center, associate vice provost for cancer programs at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences and professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dr. Mannel is also a leader in the National Clinical Trials Network of the National Cancer Institute.

"Rather than having separate appointments across different offices and locations, our multidisciplinary clinics bring together all the specialists involved in a patient's care into a single, convenient setting."

“The field of cancer treatment is growing so much so quickly that it is impossible for one person to keep up with everything,” said radiation oncologist Dr. Christina Henson, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

“That is why it is important to see someone who is an expert in your specific cancer type and who is willing to collaborate with all of the members of the care team,” she said.

What is Multidisciplinary Care?

At Stephenson Cancer Center, a patient might meet with surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, in addition to supportive care providers like dietitians, social workers, psychologists, financial navigators and more – all in one visit. Before the patient arrives, this multidisciplinary team reviews their case collectively to develop a coordinated treatment plan.

"It allows for an open discussion and true consensus on the best approach for that particular situation, with every perspective in the room," said Dr. Mannel. "Then as the patient moves forward, we can quickly adapt the plan if needed based on their response or any changes."

This level of communication and integration is invaluable, as cancer treatment is highly complex.

“To me, multidisciplinary care is really epitomized through what we call Tumor Boards,” said Dr. Henson. “Each type of cancer has its own tumor board that meets regularly. For example, I participate in Head and Neck Cancer Tumor Board and Breast Cancer Tumor Board, each of which meets weekly.”

With typically 15 to 40 healthcare providers at these meetings, the experts discuss each patient’s case as a group to make sure that everyone agrees and is on the same page about the patient’s treatment plan. This is particularly important for some of the more complex cases that are complicated or rare. Multidisciplinary care can also include multidisciplinary clinics where physicians from different specialties will see a new patient together at the same time.

“This saves the patient time, expedites care and allows the patient to hear the discussion going on between his or her different physicians in real time,” said Dr. Henson “I think it adds a sense of transparency and trust.

Better Options for Better Care

However, the multidisciplinary approach extends far beyond just medical expertise. Supportive services play an equally vital role in achieving optimal outcomes.

"Successful cancer therapy must be holistic," Dr. Mannel said. "Social determinants like access to care, financial constraints, mental health, nutrition and many other factors can significantly impact a patient's ability to complete their treatment effectively."

To address these non-medical barriers, Stephenson Cancer Center has assembled a robust supportive care infrastructure. From psychosocial counseling and dietary guidance to financial assistance and community outreach, these services ensure every patient's unique needs are addressed.

"We screen all patients for potential obstacles and connect them with our supportive resources, even providing many services at no cost to the patient if insurance won't cover it," Dr. Mannel said. "Our nutritionists, for example, are an invaluable part of the multidisciplinary team that insurance typically won't pay for with cancer patients."

Underpinning this comprehensive model is an institutional commitment to research and continual advancement. At Stephenson Cancer Center, 20% of patients gain access to cutting-edge clinical trials exploring new therapies. This forward-thinking environment aims to not only provide the best current care but drive future improvements.

" For every patient we treat, we learn something to do better for the next person who walks through our doors," said Dr. Mannel. "It's this research-driven, multidisciplinary approach that leads to better outcomes."

If you or a family member is facing a cancer diagnosis, seeking care at a multidisciplinary cancer center can ensure you receive the highest level of personalized, comprehensive treatment. At Stephenson Cancer Center, this unified philosophy surrounds each patient with a full suite of medical and supportive resources, all working together to achieve the best possible results.

Combining Care with Research

In 2018, Stephenson Cancer Center became Oklahoma’s only National Cancer Center Institute-Designated Cancer Center, making it the first and only cancer center in Oklahoma to hold this distinction.

In 2023, Stephenson Cancer Center successfully renewed its NCI designation and sharpened its focus on creating a statewide network to bring NCI-level care to people throughout Oklahoma. As an NCI-Designated Cancer Center, Stephenson is on the frontline of cancer research and treatment. Only 2% of cancer centers nationwide earn NCI designation.

Statistics show that patients receiving care at NCI-Designated Cancer Centers have up to 25% improved survival one year after diagnosis – a remarkable finding that underscores the significance of where one seeks cancer treatment. Multidisciplinary care is a major driver of the center’s success.

“Multidisciplinary care is incredibly important because when it comes to cancer care, you have a lot of specialists involved who are experts in their own fields, but not necessarily in one another’s fields,” said Dr. Henson. “It is so important that these parties are in constant communication and collaboration so that everyone’s expertise can be leveraged for the highest patient good.”

As a radiation oncologist, Dr. Henson said working with a team creates more and better options for her patients.

“One of the most frequently occurring examples is with breast cancer radiation – there are so many ways it can be done and so many nuances to it,” she said. “I am able to offer the patient a much more convenient type of radiation, with fewer side effects, than what a surgeon might have thought was available to them - particularly surgeons referring patients from outside institutions.”

Learn more about comprehensive, multidisciplinary cancer care at Stephenson Cancer Center or speak to an expert by calling (405) 271-1112.