Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Needs the Care Team Approach

If you “need a village to raise a child”; then, you “need a care team to treat Head and Neck Cancer”.
I reached out to South Florida Radiation Oncologist, Dr. James T. Parsons for his insight on how the complexities of treating Head and Neck Cancers can be lessened by utilizing a well synchronized group of medical professional.  Dr. Parsons is an internationally recognized expert in the field of Head and Neck Cancer treatment. 
We would like to emphasize the importance of a coordinated team approach for successful treatment of one of the most complex of all cancer diagnoses.
Unless they have a previous experience or personal knowledge, when most people think of cancer treatment, rarely do they truly understand that it will require a finely choreographed coordination amongst several healthcare professionals and other caregivers.
I posed the following questions to Dr. Parsons about the “Care Team” approach in the treatment of Head and Neck Cancers.
Q:  Who would you say are the necessary healthcare professionals that a patient should consult when he or she is diagnosed with Head and Neck Cancer?

1.  Head and Neck Surgeon
2.  Medical Oncologist
3. Radiation Oncologist
4.  Dentist
5. Oral Surgeon

Q:  How do patients navigate through the many treatment options, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery or combinations of multiple modalities, to make the right decision about their treatment course?
A:  This is one of the benefits of having a “Care Team” approach.  If all the healthcare providers work together in evaluating the patient’s treatment needs, usually this provides a consensus of opinion, simplifying the decision-making process for the patient.  Occasionally, providers may agree on multiple treatments options, this is when assistance from family and/or close friends can be extremely helpful in the decision making process.
Q:  You mention the patient’s family and friends; I assume these persons can also have a tremendous impact on the well-being of the patient during and after treatment.  Do you consider family and friends to be part of the patient “Care Team” as well?
A:  Definitely.  Treatment for Head and Neck type cancers, like most cancers, can produce multiple side effects.  A strong at home support system is just as crucial to the success of the treatment as any medical service.  Once treatment begins, additional healthcare resources may join the “Care Team” such as: social workers, registered dieticians, and home health nurses or aides.  
Q:  Any final thoughts on the “Care Team” approach?
A:  Early intervention by the surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, dentist and oral surgeon ensure that a rational plan of care can be developed, reducing the occurrence of any surprises along the way.
You can follow this link to the National Institutes of Health’s website for more information on Oral Cancer: