How one hospital is overcoming disparities in pancreatic cancer care
Posted: October 26, 2021 | Word Count: 678
According to the American Cancer Society, about 48,220 people in the U.S. will die of pancreatic cancer this year, and unfortunately, most do not experience symptoms of the disease until it has become large or spread elsewhere in the body. A recent study also found that socioeconomic status and race were associated with worse patient outcomes and lower survival rates. The study, conducted by doctors at Capital Health in New Jersey, discovered that patients with a lower socioeconomic status and those who are African American are more likely to encounter barriers to receiving specialized care at major medical institutions.
Pancreatic cancer treatment is complicated by the fact that treatment usually involves surgery — but the location of the pancreas and where tumors usually appear makes surgery extremely complicated. Surgeons who specialize in techniques to treat pancreatic cancer work primarily in major academic medical centers in large cities, reducing the ability of many to access top care.
Compounding these barriers to access, major institutions often will not perform surgeries for all patients, leading to further disparities.
"It’s not uncommon for major academic medical centers to decline surgery for patients who are uninsured, lower insured or receiving charity care," said Dr. Cataldo Doria, Director, Capital Health Cancer Center. "Often these are the same patients most at risk for developing pancreatic cancer to begin with, perpetuating the cycle of discrimination in healthcare."
Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include factors like smoking, diabetes and obesity, which are more common in African Americans and linked to lower socioeconomic status — so the patients most at risk for pancreatic cancer often cannot access the care they need.
Solutions to providing better pancreatic cancer care
Capital Health Cancer Center, located in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, has been working toward resolving these disparities. To ensure that all patients receive the highest level of care, the community medical center has adopted a novel approach, focused on how they treat each patient, who they hire to provide care and their embrace of the most innovative technology available.
Whole patient care
The medical teams at the hospital take a personalized approach to every patient, treating every patient in need of care regardless of income or insurance status. To provide personalized, holistic care in the case of pancreatic cancer, that means coordinating among multi-disciplinary teams to address the whole patient. For example, one patient’s cancer care team alone may include multiple oncology specialists, sub-specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, geneticists, nutritionists and social workers. These teams of specialists collaborate and communicate with one another frequently to ensure the best possible care for their patients.
Specialized, experienced talent
One crucial way Capital Health has made their Cancer Center a leader in patient care is by recruiting the top talent, and hiring doctors who have years of experience at major academic institutions, with the highly specialized expertise and ability to use the most innovative techniques — such as those required for pancreatic cancer surgery.
Because pancreatic cancer tumors often grow around major vessels that feed vital organs, minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery is one of the most effective techniques to treat the cancer — which also results in much faster recovery and less pain post-surgery. Doria is one of a handful of U.S. surgeons skilled in using these precise surgical techniques. Other specialists include doctors experienced in the latest diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopic procedures. The technology for some of these surgeries and procedures is not available at many smaller community-based medical centers.
"Capital Health has the feel of a small community hospital, but the expertise and care of a large academic medical center," said Doria. "Every patient has access to the advanced surgeries and other care we offer."
Because of these efforts in providing consistently excellent and groundbreaking cancer care, Capital Health was recognized as an approved National Pancreatic Cancer Center by the National Pancreas Foundation (NPF). NPF Centers are awarded after rigorous audit review to determine that the institution focuses on multidisciplinary treatment providing the best possible outcomes and improved quality of life.
For more information about Capital Health Cancer Center, visit CapitalHealth.org/cancer.