Treating Cancer: Why Acting Quickly Is So Important
Advocacy On average, it takes 29 days for a cancer patient to begin treatment. The clock starts at diagnosis but getting prompt care is essential.
“One of the best ways to try to alleviate fear and anxiety that comes with this diagnosis is to see patients quickly,” says Brian J. Bolwell, MD, FACP. Dr. Bolwell is Chairman of the Taussig Cancer Institute at Cleveland Clinic, and explains that the average time to start cancer treatment at academic medical centers is even longer – 43 days.
Time to treat
Treatments can be delayed for a variety of reasons, such as additional testing, insurance authorizations or changing providers or hospitals. Still, the sooner patients get treatment started, the better.
Cleveland Clinic researchers reviewed nearly 3.7 million cancer patient records from 2004 to 2013. They found longer delays between diagnosis and initial treatment were associated with “worsened overall survival” rates for patients with stages I and II breast, renal, lung and pancreatic cancers and stage II colorectal cancers. The increased risk of death was 1.2 to 3.2 percent for every week of delayed treatment.
“Our North Star is to take care of sick patients,” says Dr. Bolwell, who is committed to research too, which is paramount to advance treatment.
With a multidisciplinary care approach, doctors of different specialties come together to treat the patient as a team, learning from one another.
He and his team have a “patients first” approach. They want patients to have access to care right away and say they shouldn’t have to wait around for treatment.
Dr. Bolwell, who remembers his former cancer patients fondly, recalls a patient’s comment, “If I only have eight months to live, not waiting three hours to get my chemotherapy is actually, really, really important.”
Teamwork among doctors, nurses, technicians and other medical staff is critical.
“Everybody working together is really the key,” says Dr. Bolwell, explaining the Cleveland Clinic’s system alerts the whole team when pathology makes a cancer diagnosis. That helps ensure no patient falls through the cracks.
With a multidisciplinary care approach, doctors of different specialties come together to treat the patient as a team, learning from one another. It’s quality over quantity too. Dr. Bolwell notes since all the center’s doctors are salaried, they are not incentivized to see a large number of patients, but instead are dedicated to each patient’s care.
Better patient experiences
These days providers and facilities are streamlining the process for patients. For example, at Cleveland Clinic patients can see their doctor, go to the lab, the pharmacy and get support services like music therapy, all in one place.
Cleveland Clinic’s new Taussig Cancer Center was designed with the patient in mind. The focus is on improved patient experiences including close access to medical care, support resources and privacy.
Private chemotherapy infusion suites have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the tree-lined lawn; and a skylight brings natural light to the lower level, giving patients a brighter outlook.
The center has genetics and genomics testing; on-site diagnostic imaging; and a dedicated area for phases 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials, with emphasis on phase 1 trials. They also have high-level treatment technology, including six linear accelerators and a Gamma Knife suite.
They want to reduce the psychological stress of cancer too. There’s a wellness center, and a complimentary wig boutique for patients with chemotherapy-associated hair loss to get free wigs, caps and scarves, since hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Other amenities include a private prosthetics fitting area and access to facials and other aesthetic services.
While days to treatment are important, taking care of every aspect of a patient’s care is too. To learn more about cancer care at Cleveland Clinic or to schedule an appointment with a Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center specialist, visit clevelandclinic.org/cancer.