2019 World Health Organization (WHO) data estimates that cancer is the leading cause of death in people before the age of 70. In the Philippines, cancer is the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease. In the midst of the global pandemic, this “other C” continues to affect the lives of Filipinos. As shown in the 2020 Globocan report, the total number of new cancer cases reached over 153,000, while the total number of deaths due to cancer was reported as 92,606.
The incidence of cancer is on the rise, and cancer care and treatment have grown more complicated. Cancer patients were often managed by referring them from one clinician to another at various phases of diagnosis and treatment without an integrated approach. This can be a confusing and overwhelming experience for patients. As a result, patients received uncoordinated care and were less satisfied with services.
Given the complexities of a cancer patient’s journey, the role of a multidisciplinary team (MDT) becomes an oasis of hope for patients and their families.
The role of MDT in cancer care
According to Dr. Joan Tagorda, Head of Emergency Department at University of the East, a multidisciplinary team consists of specialists and healthcare professionals who work together to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs, most particularly in the case of cancer patients.
Among the core members of the Cancer MDT are specialists in Surgery, Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Pathology, Radiology, and supportive care. The patient’s attending physician is also a member of the core team.
The MDT provides a personalized standard of care management to patients. This includes the spectrum of the cancer patient journey – diagnostics, treatment, and supportive care.
Benefits of MDT
“The main benefit of MDT for patients is the delivery of patient-focused, coordinated, and efficient care. With coordinated care, there may be a reduced delay in treatment resulting in increased patient confidence and satisfaction. There is also an assurance that the agreed treatment plan follows the standard clinical practice guidelines which may result in an increased overall survival rate,” noted Dr. Tagorda.
Likewise, healthcare professionals also benefit from MDT. As a result of an agreed- upon treatment plan, streamlined services, and overall coordination of patient care, diagnostics are more efficient. Additionally, the MDT serves to provide opportunities for health professionals to learn about other disciplines.
Dr. Tagorda has helped cancer patients achieve better results through the help of MDT. Recalling the experience of one of her patients, she said that “the patient gains the benefit of a unified management plan which also prepares them and their families of what lies ahead of their cancer journey. The patient is also empowered to have an educated decision-making because of this access to all the specialists at the outset.
She was able to go through all the needed tests and treatment with ease and with the best possible outcome.”
Patient access to MDT
“The MDT should be an institutional mandate. The hospital administration should fully support the creation of an MDT, also providing for the necessary infrastructure and manpower,” Dr. Tagorda emphasized.
Hospitals, both public and private, have existing guidelines and protocols regarding MDTs. Through their attending physician, patients can discuss how to convene an MDT that will work with their case.
Currently, the MDT is not covered by private insurance nor PhilHealth. It is an out-of- pocket expense for the patient.
“However, there are large government hospitals with established MDTs. All cancer patients under the hospital are presented to the MDT, where treatment planning and supportive care are decided on, at no cost to the patient,” Dr. Tagorda noted.
With the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law and National Integrated Cancer Care Act (NICCA), there are more opportunities for a cancer patient to access services, treatment and support, hopefully, including MDT.
For this reason and more, cancer patient and care groups and campaigns continue to advocate for the swift and complete implementation of these mandates. One such campaign is Hope from Within (HFW) by MSD in the Philippines. This multi-stakeholder cancer advocacy is committed to renewing hope and reinforcing the fight for Filipino cancer patients through timely and medical-professional-backed information on navigating the cancer patient journey. More information can be found on www.hopefromwithin.org or through Hope Frow Within’s official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Hopefromwithinph/.
And in the continued fight against cancer, remember to ask your doctor about meeting with a multidisciplinary team to craft an appropriate treatment and management plan for your cancer condition.