People who are newly diagnosed with cancer such as mantle-cell lymphoma (MCL) must learn enough information without being overwhelmed, as well as actively participate in decisions while appreciating their treatment team’s expertise. What is the best way to achieve this balance?
After the difficult period associated with absorbing the shock of a cancer diagnosis, patients must make a number of important decisions, beginning with the selection of their treatment team. Many cancer centers take a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, meaning an entire team of doctors and other professionals are involved in patient care. Members of the multidisciplinary medical team may include:
- Hematologist (a specialist in treating lymphomas, including MCL)
- Pathologist (an expert who examines any removed tissue)
- Physician assistant, nurse practitioner, and nurses who specialize in cancer
The team may also include a nurse navigator, financial counselor, psychologist, and/or social worker to guide patients through the complex healthcare system, counsel patients about their financial obligations and insurance options, and reduce barriers that may limit patients’ ability to receive the care they need. The patient’s primary care physician is often considered a member of the extended treatment team, especially if he/she is helping to manage other medical conditions in the patient.
After the diagnosis of MCL has been confirmed, the hematologist will meet with the patient to discuss the next course of action, which usually includes active treatment of the disease. If a stem-cell transplant is being considered, a stem-cell transplant specialist may be added to the treatment team.
Regardless of the specific individuals who make up the treatment team, it is important for patients and their loved ones to be involved in key decisions involving their care. This is often called shared decision-making. Patients can benefit from the expertise of medical professionals involved in their care in many ways, including:
- By preparing for appointments in advance and being ready to discuss important decisions that will affect their care
- By speaking up and asking questions if the information provided by the treatment team is not clear
- By taking notes or using a recording device or (free) phone app to record discussions with the treatment team during medical appointments
- By obtaining second and even third opinions, if necessary, at any point during the treatment process.
Because treatment decisions can directly affect so many aspects of the patient’s life and the lives of their loved ones, clear and open communication with members of the treatment team is vitally important. Future articles in this series will focus on the importance of staying in touch with key members of the treatment team while in remission.