For Residents

The Power of a Multidisciplinary Tumor Board: Managing Unresectable and/or High-Risk Skin Cancers

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High-risk skin cancers can be difficult to treat for the dermatologist and Mohs surgeon. Multidisciplinary tumor board conferences create a team of health care specialists focused on reviewing patient cases and offering advice on individualized management and treatment. These tumor board meetings create a space for multiple providers from different specialties to collaborate to craft an effective treatment plan for patients. Furthermore, they also provide up-to-date education in cutaneous oncology for residents, referring providers, and staff. Residents gain invaluable experience in managing patients with difficult or advanced skin cancers through participation in a tumor board.

Resident Pearl

  • Participating in a multidisciplinary tumor board allows residents to learn more about how to manage and treat high-risk skin cancers. The multidisciplinary team approach provides high-quality care for challenging patients.



Multidisciplinary tumor boards are composed of providers from many fields who deliver coordinated care for patients with unresectable and high-risk skin cancers. Providers who comprise the tumor board often are radiation oncologists, hematologists/oncologists, general surgeons, dermatologists, dermatologic surgeons, and pathologists. The benefit of having a tumor board is that each patient is evaluated simultaneously by a group of physicians from various specialties who bring diverse perspectives that will contribute to the overall treatment plan. The cases often encompass high-risk tumors including unresectable basal cell carcinomas or invasive melanomas. By combining knowledge from each specialty in a team approach, the tumor board can effectively and holistically develop a care plan for each patient.

For the tumor board at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island), we often prepare a presentation with comprehensive details about the patient and tumor. During the presentation, we also propose a treatment plan prior to describing each patient at the weekly conference and amend the plans during the discussion. Tumor boards also provide a consulting role to the community and hospital providers in which patients are being referred by their primary provider and are seeking a second opinion or guidance.

In many ways, the tumor board is a multidisciplinary approach for patient advocacy in the form of treatment. These physicians meet on a regular basis to check on the patient’s progress and continually reevaluate how to have discussions about the patient’s care. There are many reasons why it is important to refer patients to a multidisciplinary tumor board.

Improved Workup and Diagnosis

One of the values of a tumor board is that it allows for patient data to be collected and assembled in a way that tells a story. The specialist from each field can then discuss and weigh the benefits and risks for each diagnostic test that should be performed for the workup in each patient. Physicians who refer their patients to the tumor board use their recommendations to both confirm the diagnosis and shift their treatment plans, depending on the information presented during the meeting.1 There may be a change in the tumor type, decision to refer for surgery, cancer staging, and list of viable options, especially after reviewing pathology and imaging.2 The discussion of the treatment plan may consider not only surgical considerations but also the patient’s quality of life. At times, noninvasive interventions are more appropriate and align with the patient’s goals of care. In addition, during the tumor board clinic there may be new tumors that are identified and biopsied, providing increased diagnosis and surveillance for patients who may have a higher risk for developing skin cancer.

Education for Residents and Providers

The multidisciplinary tumor board not only helps patients but also educates both residents and providers on the evidence-based therapeutic management of high-risk tumors.2 Research literature on cutaneous oncology is dynamic, and the weekly tumor board meetings help providers stay informed about the best and most effective treatments for their patients.3 In addition to the attending specialists, participants of the tumor board also may include residents, medical students, medical assistance staff, nurses, physician assistants, and fellows. Furthermore, the recommendations given by the tumor board serve to educate both the patient and the provider who referred them to the tumor board. Although we have access to excellent dermatology textbooks as residents, the most impactful educational experience is seeing the patients in tumor board clinic and participating in the immensely educational discussions at the weekly conferences. Through this experience, I have learned that treatment plans should be personalized to the patient. There are many factors to take into consideration when deciphering what the best course of treatment will be for a patient. Sometimes the best option is Mohs micrographic surgery, while other times it may be scheduling several sessions of palliative radiation oncology. Treatment depends on the individual patient and their condition.

Coordination of Care

During a week that I was on call, I was consulted to biopsy a patient with a giant hemorrhagic basal cell carcinoma that caused substantial cheek and nose distortion as well as anemia secondary to acute blood loss. The patient not only did not have a dermatologist but also did not have a primary care physician given he had not had contact with the health care system in more than 30 years. The reason for him not seeking care was multifactorial, but the approach to his care became multidisciplinary. We sought to connect him with the right providers to help him in any way that we could. We presented him at our multidisciplinary tumor board and started him on sonedigib, a medication that binds to and inhibits the smoothened protein.4 Through the tumor board, we were able to establish sustained contact with the patient. The tumor board created effective communication between providers to get him the referrals that he needed for dermatology, pathology, radiation oncology, hematology/oncology, and otolaryngology. The discussions centered around being cognizant of the patient’s apprehension with the health care system as well as providing medical and surgical treatment that would help his quality of life. We built a consensus on what the best plan was for the patient and his family. This consensus would have been more difficult had it not been for the combined specialties of the tumor board. In general, studies have shown that weekly tumor boards have resulted in decreased mortality rates for patients with advanced cancers.5

Final Thoughts

The multidisciplinary tumor board is a powerful resource for hospitals and the greater medical community. At these weekly conferences you realize there may still be hope that begins at the line where your expertise ends. It represents a team of providers who compassionately refuse to give up on patients when they are the last refuge.

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