Pancreatic cancer is complex, which is why many patients are cared for by multidisciplinary teams. A multidisciplinary team brings together different types of healthcare professionals who specialize in different aspects of diagnosing, treating and caring for patients with a certain disease.
Seeing pancreatic cancer specialists, doctors who diagnose and treat a high volume of pancreatic cancer patients, improves outcomes. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) strongly recommends you consult with pancreatic cancer specialists who have experience diagnosing and treating the disease.
Together, the multidisciplinary team:
- Determines which treatments are best for the patient
- Coordinates care
- Monitors the patient’s treatment response and general health
- Manages symptoms and side effects related to the diagnosis and treatments
- Makes updates to the treatment plan, if needed
- Evaluates next steps, including whether additional tests are needed
And individually, each team member makes a critical contribution to the patient’s care. Here’s a look at each team member’s expertise and how they support a patient throughout their treatment journey.
Multidisciplinary Team Member Roles
Gastroenterologists specialize in the function and disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach, intestines, pancreas and related organs.
Patients often seek initial care from a gastroenterologist when symptoms occur. Gastroenterologists can request tests, like imaging tests and blood tests. If an imaging test shows a pancreatic mass, a biopsy (tissue sample) may also be requested.
Pathologists identify diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. The pathologist makes the official diagnosis.
Radiologists analyze and report on the results of imaging tests to determine the extent of the disease, which is important for treatment planning. They may also recommend additional imaging tests when appropriate.
Medical Oncologists specialize in cancer, treat cancer with medical therapies, such as chemotherapy, and manage most treatment side effects. On a multidisciplinary team, medical oncologists are tasked with overseeing a patient’s treatment plan, tailoring it to the patient’s unique case and treatment goals. Oncologists may also recommend tests like molecular profiling for a patient to check if the tumor’s biological characteristics align with particular treatment options, like targeted therapies.
Radiation Oncologists use radiation therapy to treat cancer and its symptoms.
Research suggests that giving treatments, like chemotherapy or radiation, before and after surgery may be beneficial. And, it’s possible for patients who originally weren’t eligible for surgery to become eligible later in their treatment journeys. For these reasons, surgeons work closely with oncologists and radiation oncologists to coordinate care.
Nurses/Nurse Practitioners carry out the treatment plan prescribed by doctors. Some nurses specialize in oncology. Nurses are an excellent resource for patients to ask questions about treatment, get tips or assistance with care and obtain support services or educational materials.
In addition to treating the cancer, another equally important goal of the multidisciplinary team is caring for the symptoms and side effects that come with the disease and its treatment.
Supportive (palliative) care is meant to relieve the symptoms and side effects of a disease. Supportive care should be provided early in your diagnosis as well as during and after treatment.
Every member of the healthcare team can provide patients with supportive care. Here are some additional members of the healthcare team that can provide supportive care to patients throughout their journey.
Pain Specialists focus on the diagnosis and treatment of pain. Pain specialists work closely with medical oncologists to find appropriate treatment options for pain management.
Registered Dietitians are healthcare professionals trained in food, nutrition, biochemistry and physiology. A dietitian can provide guidance regarding appropriate nutritional care for the patient, including supplemental pancreatic enzymes. Also, they can be an essential resource in managing symptoms and side effects associated with diseases like pancreatic cancer.
Social Workers are professionally trained to assist and counsel patients and families. The role of the social worker is to provide guidance and resources regarding treatment, support groups, financial resources, end of life care, transportation assistance or home care.
Psychiatrists and Psychologists specialize in providing psychological help and counseling to patients and their families. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication in addition to providing psychological counseling.
Another critical role on the multidisciplinary team is the patient’s role. By communicating their feelings, concerns and goals with their team, patients can ensure that they get the support they need and play an active role in their cancer care.