UCSF Neuro-oncologists Engage Caregivers to Better Help Patients

By Jason Bardi, Public Affairs | July 29, 2011

Seeking to improve care for people with brain tumors, neuro-oncologists at UCSF Medical Center are beginning to look beyond the patient to engage a patient’s family, friends and other caregivers.

Caregivers often take on a large, central role in helping their loved ones through brain cancer. But the new initiative reflects a growing belief in health care that identifying and addressing the needs of caregivers would improve care for patients.

“That patient-caregiver interaction is so critical,” said neuro-oncologist Susan Chang, MD. “We think that addressing the needs of caregivers is important for addressing the needs of our patients.”

Chang will be a featured speaker at the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) Patient-Family Connections Meeting this week in Chicago. Aimed at brain tumor patients, cancer survivors, their families and friends, and health care professionals, the meeting will also feature a dinner speech by Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of Senator Edward Kennedy, who died from brain cancer in 2009.

Earlier this year, Chang published a report on a major clinical study outlining the needs caregivers experience as they help their loved ones through treatment for a brain tumor. Guided by the findings of the report, the UCSF Division of Neuro-oncology in the Department of Neurological Surgery began exploring ways to build better support for caregivers into the standard of care for brain tumor patients at UCSF Medical Center.

Leading Cause of Cancer Death
Brain tumors are second only to leukemia as the leading cause of cancer death among children and men under 40. More than two-thirds of those diagnosed with malignant brain cancer die within five years, and this form of cancer claims about 13,000 American lives a year. Every day, about 500 people are diagnosed with brain tumors.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that at least $3.7 billion is spent in the United States each year treating brain cancer, but this figure does not take into account the often staggering physical, mental and emotional toll paid by patients and the friends and family around them.

From a doctor’s point of view, the primary challenge in treating brain cancer has not really changed, Chang said. The goals of treatment have historically been to find, safely remove and ultimately eradicate tumors, and advances in the field usually address this challenge directly — whether aimed at finding better ways to image tumors, improving surgical techniques or identifying new drugs.

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