Written by Lisa Buffington | Photographed by William Townsend
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you need answers, resources, expertise and reassurance—and you need it now. Because each cancer diagnosis is as unique as your lifestyle, health history and preferences, you also need the input of many cancer care experts and access to a full range of treatment options.
At Torrance Memorial’s Hunt Cancer Institute, each cancer case presentation is discussed by a team of up to 30 cancer specialists at weekly Tumor Board meetings.
The goal: to recommend the best individual and personalized care plan based on each patient’s condition, goals and lifestyle, backed by the latest national treatment guidelines and the experience, expertise and opinions of multiple cancer specialists.
“Patients newly diagnosed with cancer are often scared and feel overwhelmed. Patients need reassurance and often want a second opinion,” says Andrew Horodner, MD, chair of the general and thoracic (lung) Tumor Boards and hematologist/medical oncologist at the Hunt Cancer Institute. “I tell my patients when their case is presented at Tumor Board, they are getting not only a second opinion but frequently three, four or five opinions about their care. And the treatment recommendations provided are a consensus agreement by all of these doctors. This gives many patients significant peace of mind.”
The Tumor Board isn’t just about treatment recommendations. The team discusses genetic testing and supportive care options that focus on quality of life as well as potential clinical trials available to each patient.
“The Tumor Board might sound scary, but it’s really a multidisciplinary conference bringing together all types of patient care specialists so we can discuss each patient’s case and recommend the best course of treatment,” says Sarina Pai, DO, breast specialty radiologist at Torrance Memorial’s Polak Breast Diagnostic Center.
A Team Approach to Cancer Care
Torrance Memorial offers Tumor Boards for patients diagnosed with breast, gastrointestinal, lung, head/neck and neurological cancers. Each Tumor Board includes a team of experts who play an important role in enhancing patient treatment and outcomes. Tumor Board participants include:
- Radiologists who present the patient’s relevant medical, imaging and biopsy history and cancer stage.
- Pathologists who present the patient’s biopsy results, including tumor type and biomarkers.
- Surgeons who discuss surgical treatment options.
- Radiation oncologists who discuss radiation therapy options.
- Medical oncologists who discuss options for chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapies.
- Genetic counselors who discuss family history, genetic test results and related considerations
- Nurse navigators who assist patients throughout their treatment by making appointments, answering questions, connecting with support groups and more.
- Plastic surgeons who discuss reconstruction options for patients who are candidates for breast surgery.
- Primary care physicians who refer and follow patients and provide information on the patient’s medical and personal history.
- Cedars-Sinai subspecialists who provide additional resources to support the patient’s care plan and weigh in on the diagnosis and options for treatment.
“It’s a truly dynamic process because we all bring our expertise, follow the latest care guidelines and communicate constantly—both with the patient and with our colleagues on the team,” says Rashaan Ali-Jones, MD, chair of the Breast Tumor Board at Torrance Memorial. “This collaborative, team approach provides patients with access to the most advanced care, including clinical trials, close to home.”
Personalized Treatment Recommendations
When it comes to cancer, Torrance Memorial experts agree no two cases—and no two patients—are exactly alike. Through the Tumor Board, Torrance Memorial is able to provide a customized care plan based on the opinions of highly trained, experienced specialists.
“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to cancer treatment, so we review everything and make sure each patient is getting access to a multidisciplinary team of cancer experts who will provide a personalized treatment plan, assuring they will get what they need without having to go anywhere else,” says Dr. Horodner. “Patients want to know we are developing the best possible plan to help them, and the Tumor Board is one way we can provide that reassurance—all in one state-of-the-art facility, right in their own backyard at the Hunt Cancer Center.”
The Tumor Board also provides an opportunity for clinicians to get to know their patients, allowing them to factor the patients’ preferences, lifestyles and family/social concerns into their treatment recommendations. “We are in communication with the patient’s primary care provider (PCP), who can virtually participate in the Tumor Board,” says Dr. Ali-Jones. “Often the PCP can provide us with even more information we can use to recommend the best treatment plan.”
Further, clinicians also discuss each patient’s need for psychosocial and nutritional support, as well as cosmetic concerns and possible treatment side effects. “Everyone’s cancer is different and every patient is different, so we get to know everything about our patients,” says Dr. Pai. “It’s not dictated care. We want our patients to have all the information they need to make informed decisions about their treatment.”
Leading-Edge Options Close to Home
In addition to having access to the opinions and expertise of multiple cancer specialists, Torrance Memorial patients can also participate in promising cancer clinical trials right here in Torrance through the medical center’s affiliation with Cedars-Sinai.
“Patients don’t have to travel far to participate in clinical trials, which is a tremendous benefit of our affiliation with Cedars-Sinai,” says Dr. Pai. “If we think a patient will qualify for a trial, we can discuss that option at Tumor Board and present it to the patient.”
“Cedars-Sinai subspecialists also participate in our Tumor Board meetings, which means our patients have access to cutting-edge treatments and clinical trials right at their doorstep—whether they need radiation or surgical or medical oncology care,” says Dr. Horodner.
The Hunt Cancer Institute is also nationally recognized for cancer care excellence by leading accreditation organizations and reporting bodies, including The Joint Commission, U.S. News & World Report, the Commission on Cancer, the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, the American College of Radiology, the Lung Cancer Alliance and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
“Patients at Torrance Memorial receive the same high-level, collaborative care they would at an academic medical center, but they are able to receive their care and treatment with the comfort and convenience of being close to home,” says Dr. Ali-Jones.
“There’s no place like Torrance Memorial’s Hunt Cancer Institute for cancer care because we are all here for the right reasons and won’t settle for anything less than excellence,” says Dr. Pai. “When you come to us for cancer treatment, you can expect the most comprehensive care.” •
For questions or information, contact the Hunt Cancer Institute at 310-517-7077.
Collaboration Brings Leading-Edge Clinical Trials to Hunt Cancer Center
Hunt Cancer Center offers clinical trials for various cancer types including colon, lung, prostate, head/neck and breast. According to Swati Sikaria, MD, a hematologist-oncologist at Hunt Cancer Center, the organization sources some of the most promising clinical trials through partnerships with Cedars-Sinai, other resource networks and biotechnical companies.
“We look at the available clinical trials and choose the best ones for our patient population,” says Dr. Sikaria. For example, because breast cancer is the #1 diagnosis at Hunt Cancer Center, the team can select the breast cancer clinical trials that provide the most benefit to the South Bay community.
Over the last few years, our clinical trial offerings have rapidly expanded via our close partnership with Cedars-Sinai. We are collaborating with researchers to develop a “liquid biopsy” so that one day cancer may be detected or monitored more accurately through blood tests. We have clinical trials for patients with breast cancer at every stage of treatment—from preoperative to postoperative and for patients with incurable disease. Many novel therapies, including lung and colon cancer, are based on targeted mutations in an individual patient’s cancer genome.
Another new area of research is de-escalation. Whether in HPV+ head/neck cancer, intermediate-risk prostate cancer or HER2-positive breast cancer, we are examining if we can reduce treatment while preserving efficacy to minimize toxicities of cancer treatments for patients.
According to Dr. Sikaria, “Patients can feel confident when they seek cancer treatment at Hunt Cancer Center, they are accessing the most cutting-edge cancer therapies available right here in the South Bay.”