Inside a breast cancer tumor conference, team of experts makes plans for each patient

Oct. 17, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

As cancer experts gather for the Avera Cancer Institute’s weekly breast cancer tumor conference, the U-shaped set of tables quickly fills with almost two dozen surgeons, oncologists, pathologists and radiologists, along with other experts.

All of this expertise is brought to bear in this single setting to focus on one case at a time. Many nurses, technologists, medical students and others fill the back half of the room to gain insight and instruction as the discussion of care begins at 7 a.m. sharp.

The focus of these breast cancer tumor conferences is the patient, with team collaboration. Having this many well-trained and board-certified professionals coming together to evaluate 15 or more individual cases is an effective way to look at all the facts and information. Together, they develop care plans to help each patient experience the best possible outcome.

Collaboration of know-how

At the beginning of each case presented, Avera Medical Group breast surgeons, including Dr. Tricia Merrigan, Dr. Wade Dosch and Dr. Julie Reiland, begin the process, introducing the case and sharing information on the patient’s diagnosis, condition and other details.

After the case is introduced, physicians and other professionals from radiology and pathology present mammogram and MRI slides, as well as images of lab slides from biopsy tissue.

Surgeons and oncologists make points about possible approaches and alternatives. In some cases, the surgical approach may be discussed – would a mastectomy or a lumpectomy be an option? Tumor size, location and other facts are shared, with questions posed from various additional specialists, including plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Physicians and others gathered discuss the sequence of care for a patient, considering medical and radiation oncology as well as surgery. Since surgeons often meet with patients initially, they sometimes begin the conversation in the conference and then lead in to the oncologist and his or her recommendations. A physician may ask why the plan is constructed as it is, and physicians will add new information to answer those questions.

Specialists contribute ideas

Physicians from Avera’s genomic research team, as well as genetic counselors, offer their perspectives. The patient’s other medical diagnoses such as chronic diseases, mental health concerns, family and work considerations or social concerns also are reviewed. In some cases, these important aspects of the patient’s overall well-being must be addressed along with the breast cancer being faced. Resource people in all areas of care are brought into the discussions, including navigators, social workers, research nurses and many others.

“We want to treat each patient as we’d want to be treated if we ourselves or our loved ones were facing cancer,” said breast surgeon Dr. Tricia Merrigan of Avera Medical Group Comprehensive Breast Care. “We do that by offering every cancer patient options and insight from multiple physicians.”

For a layperson, the detail and level of discussion at these weekly conferences might be a bit confusing or overwhelming. But for the professionals in the room, the time is invaluable for there are no “set in stone” approaches. Each is, like the patient, unique. So when a team of more than two dozen experts can set their clinical sights on a problem and address the best way to solve it, the overall winner is the patient.


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Inside a breast cancer tumor conference, team of experts makes plans for each patient

“We want to treat each patient as we’d want to be treated if we ourselves or our loved ones were facing cancer.” We take you inside a breast tumor conference at Avera.

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