health: NCCN is a treasure trove of information about treatments
As new and better ways of treating our cancers continuously improve, it would take an enormous amount of time to keep up with the changes — and that goes for doctors as well as patients. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) does it for us — and for physicians.
NCCN is a nonprofit alliance of 21 of the world's leading cancer centers whose physicians are recognized as experts in diagnosing and treating patients with all kinds of cancers. Physicians are chosen according to their specialties to sit on panels.
The members of these panels develop evidence-based guidelines for other doctors, patients and health care decision-makers. Each year, the guidelines are reviewed and updated to include newer treatments if available. The guidelines cover the majority of cancer types. Physicians from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center sit on every panel.
Physicians around the globe turn to these guidelines for guidance in caring for patients. And patients can turn to the guidelines to review treatment options for discussion with their physicians.
Using the type of cancer that I had as an example — follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma — there are seven treatment regimens suggested as front-line therapy, but for reasons that may be unique to each case, all seven may or may not be appropriate. Armed with this information, though, I could have a meaningful discussion with my physician and potentially make a more informed decision about my choice of treatment.
And let me share a little secret. When you visit the site, you'll find links to "NCCN Guidelines for Patients" and "NCCN Physician Guidelines." Guidelines for patients are easier for lay people to read, of course, but they aren't available for all types of cancers, and the physician guidelines are more in-depth.
You can access the physician guidelines simply by creating a free account with a user name and password. It's well worth it for the information you'll find.
Even if you don't understand it at first, you can print off the pages that apply to you and use them to formulate questions for your doctor. It's one way of knowing that you've explored every treatment option that is known to the best experts in the field of your cancer.
The NCCN site offers a treasure trove of information about treatments, but it's also a good resource for risk reduction, screening, pain management, fatigue and multitude of other cancer-related issues. Its information can help us make informed decisions and participate effectively in our care. And that can improve the quality of our lives.
Next Friday, Caring For the Caregiver
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Betsy de Parry is the author of The Roller Coaster Chronicles, a book about her experience with cancer and the shorter, serialized version she wrote for annarbor.com. Find her on Facebook or email her.