Purpose: To assess whether radiation oncologists and surgeons differ in their attitudes regarding the local management of breast cancer, and to examine coordination of care between these specialists.
Methods and materials: We surveyed attending surgeons and radiation oncologists who treated a population-based sample of patients diagnosed with breast cancer in metropolitan Detroit and Los Angeles. We identified 419 surgeons, of whom 318 (76%) responded, and 160 radiation oncologists, of whom 117 (73%) responded. We assessed demographic, professional, and practice characteristics; challenges to coordinated care; and attitudes toward management in three scenarios.
Results: 92.1% of surgeons and 94.8% of radiation oncologists indicated access to a multidisciplinary tumor board. Nevertheless, the most commonly identified challenge to radiation oncologists, cited by 27.9%, was failure of other providers to include them in the treatment decision process early enough. Nearly half the surgeons (49.7%) stated that few or almost none of the breast cancer patients they saw in the past 12 months had consulted with a radiation oncologist before undergoing definitive surgery. Surgeons and radiation oncologists differed in their recommendations in management scenarios. Radiation oncologists were more likely to favor radiation than were surgeons for a patient with 3/20 lymph nodes undergoing mastectomy (p = 0.03); surgeons were more likely to favor more widely clear margins after breast conservation than were radiation oncologists (p = 0.001).
Conclusions: Despite the widespread availability of tumor boards, a substantial minority of radiation oncologists indicated other providers failed to include them in the breast cancer treatment decision-making process early enough. Earlier inclusion of radiation oncologists may influence patient decisions, and interventions to facilitate this should be considered.
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