Internet Site Helps Oncologists Bridge Patients' Knowledge Gap: An Interview with April Latrice Speed, MD

Published: Tuesday, Jan 03, 2012
Dr. April Latrice Speed

April Latrice Speed, MD, breast specialist, DeKalb Medical Hillandale

As cancer treatments become more personalized, patients will be faced with learning complex biological concepts if they want to understand their tumors—and their choices— at a time when they also are grappling emotionally with the diagnosis of a life-threatening disease.

In September, Clarient, Inc launched, an Internet site designed to help patients with cancer understand the basics of molecular tumor testing. Clarient, a GE Healthcare company, offers a broad range of cancer diagnostic tests for a variety of tumor types.

Although the site is patient-focused, members of the oncology treatment team may fi nd it is a useful resource for helping them communicate with patients about therapeutic options.

The site includes short videos with cancer survivors and Clarient experts discussing such topics as the basics of tumor biology, methods for testing tumor samples, and ways in which such knowledge is used to choose targeted therapies. Particular tests, however, are not discussed in detail; patients instead are reminded to ask their oncologists about molecular testing.

April Latrice Speed, MD, a breast specialist at DeKalb Medical Hillandale in Lithonia, Georgia, has become an advocate for the site. She was not involved in its creation but has become a supporter of it because it helps her tackle patient communication issues she confronts daily in her practice.

Speed, who received the Diversity in Oncology Initiative award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology last year, discusses the site in this interview.

How do you explain to patients, who often have no medical background or scientific training, about the complex options they face?

It can be very challenging to do that, and I think that’s one of the reasons why is so important because it does reinforce what I do share with them.

I first start out with the basics, so we go over normal anatomy. Such as, what is normal in all of our breasts? What does a normal breast look like? Then I say, “Well, let’s take a look at your mammogram and let’s see how this is different from the norm.” And so I’ll share with them their images and discuss with them their biopsy results and what needs to be done to address whatever breast issue they may have.

Then I go into the treatment plan, which can be very overwhelming. But I reassure them that it’s very patient-specific and it would be a plan that’s based on their particular tumor, their type of tumor, and that this will determine if they need chemotherapy or if they need additional therapy.

It used to be everyone received the same treatment if they were diagnosed with breast cancer—the same surgery, the same chemotherapy, the same radiation as your mom, as your neighbor, as your friend. But I explain that now we can evaluate your tumor and look at tumor biology, the behavior of your tumor.

How do you use in these discussions?

When I discuss with them these sorts of very specific details, I can then refer them to the Website, which they can visit at their own leisure. The site explains why it’s important to treat a cancer based on individualized treatment. It really goes into why no 2 patients are the same.

Nothing is more comforting than being able to sit in your pajamas at home and look at a Website that goes over most of what your physician talked about with you in the office.

When they’re here, all they hear is cancer. They don’t hear a treatment plan. They don’t hear about chemotherapy, radiation. All they hear is cancer and so it’s very difficult for them to process. But the Website is less intimidating, it’s reinforcing, and they can do it in the comfort of their own home.

laboratory specialists

Laboratory specialists at Clarient, a GE Healthcare company, which offers nearly 400 cancer diagnostic tests.

How do you feel this site differs from other oncology information sites?

It’s very patient-friendly. Many of the Websites that we have out are physician-driven and have a very heavy physician presence. This Website puts the patient in the driver’s seat so that they are allowed to initiate the questions once they go back to their doctor, to the medical oncologist, to the radiation oncologist. It empowers them to know what questions to ask, and they’re driving the conversation versus sitting in front of a physician behind a scary desk who says, “Hey, you have cancer and this is your treatment.”

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