The University of Maryland Cancer Network is known for its multidisciplinary cancer care, with medical, radiation and surgical oncologists collaborating to create comprehensive treatment plans.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and hospital tumor board meetings moved online, Kyle Hatten, M.D., associate professor of otorhinolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, saw an opportunity to bring more specialized care to patients with head and neck cancers.

In April 2021, he created the University of Maryland Medical System's first virtual, head-and-neck-specific tumor board, where physicians from across the UM Cancer Network discuss treatment for patients with cancers of the head and neck like throat, mouth or salivary gland cancer.

"There are cancer programs in the UM Cancer Network that don't host a head and neck tumor board on site because they are rare cancers," Dr. Hatten said. "So we developed a system-wide, inclusive virtual program that pooled our cases across the providers to offer a robust and multi-disciplinary discussion."

How it Works

The virtual head and neck tumor board is different from other tumor boards because it incorporates specialists from multiple UM Cancer Network sites: the National Cancer Institute-designated University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC), University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health and University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.

Specialists meet every other week to discuss head and neck cancer patients' medical history, diagnosis, lab work and imaging. Then, as a group, they decide the best treatment plan for each patient.

"We know patients who have a comprehensive, multidisciplinary program have better cancer outcomes because you get a diverse set of opinions about each patient's clinical care," Dr. Hatten said.

For example, board members recently reviewed a patient diagnosed with human papilloma virus (HPV)-associated throat cancer. The board determined the patient, who lived near one of the UM Cancer Network's community hospitals, would be a good candidate for robotic-assisted surgery.

Dr. Hatten successfully performed the surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and then the patient returned home to receive post-surgery radiation therapy and follow-up care at his community hospital.

Patient Benefits

Along with having access to the region's top head and neck specialists, patients receive some treatments more quickly as a result of the new tumor board, Dr. Hatten said.

He referenced the patient who had HPV-associated throat cancer.

"After the patient's surgery, the board met to discuss the outcome," Dr. Hatten said. "As a result of that meeting, the patient's radiation oncologist immediately started developing a post-surgery treatment plan. It was ready before the patient even walked in the door the following week."

"Time is survival," he added. "Efficient coordination of these visits has been proven to result in better cancer outcomes."

Tumor board patients also have access to groundbreaking clinical trials.

In a recent survey, a majority of specialists participating on the board said it has:

  • Allowed patients to undergo adjuvant care in a timely manner
  • Improved access to other medical specialties
  • Allowed for better retention of patients for non-surgical care
  • Improved access to clinical trials

Refer your patients to the experts at the University of Maryland Cancer Network.