The following information was taken from an audio interview with K.C. Balaji, M.D., a urologist with UF Health Jacksonville.
How does UF Health Jacksonville care for patients with urological cancer?
UF Health Jacksonville is one of the major academic health centers in the region. We care for a variety of patients with complex diseases. A majority of patients come to us because of urological cancers, namely, kidney, bladder, prostate and testicular. When patients need cancer care and they want to come to UF Health Urology, we make certain promises as a psychological contract.
The first promise is that we will be accessible. In other words, when patients call us for an appointment, we don’t tell them when the next appointment is, we ask them when they are available. If we don’t have the right specialist at that time, one of our team members will see the patient and eventually get them to the right specialist. We do this because we understand how anxiety-provoking a diagnosis of cancer is, or even the thought of having cancer could be to patients and families.
That’s where our relationship starts. Once we see the patient, we take time to explain the diagnosis and the various treatment options available. Because we are an academic health center, we practice evidence-based medicine. We make recommendations based on the latest medical evidence available and offer all the options to the patients. In fact, when we discuss these options, patients generally need some more time to think it over.
We recommend some highly reliable websites for them to do their own research. Patients tend to come back within a couple of weeks with more questions. We try to meet as many times as the patient and family want in order to explain the various options.
Once the patient and the family decide what would be their best option, we go ahead with a plan to offer the treatment. Treatments are highly coordinated and offered as soon as possible. We are able to offer complex robotic surgery, immunotherapy or chemotherapy, and even newly approved drug treatments.
When cancer patients come to UF Health Jacksonville, they can expect the highest level of professional care. We also communicate in the language and to the level that patients understand, because we believe if we empower our patients with the fullest information, they will then be able to make the best decisions for themselves and their family.
How is UF Health Jacksonville’s approach to treating urological cancers unique?
As an academic health center, UF Health Jacksonville offers cutting-edge treatments and developments in the field. We also have internationally renowned experts in the field of urological cancer. Because of this, we are able to bring several new treatment opportunities for cancer patients. Sometimes, the existing treatment options may not be sufficient, so we might have to think of newer options, including clinical trials. We have a large portfolio of clinical trials here at UF Health Jacksonville for patients with urological cancers.
Some of these cancer trials are national trials that take a lot of time and effort to make it available to our own patients. We make it available under the complete cancer care model, so, when patients come in, we will see whether they are suitable for a study. We then explain the eligibility criteria and give them the option to participate.
We understand that while cancer is a broad disease, many cancers share the same kind of genetic abnormalities. We perform next-generation sequencing tests at UF Health Jacksonville in our own state-of-the-art laboratory.
Currently, we’re able to look at more than 500 cancer genes that may be affected in these patients. When we get a report, we may find there are certain genes that are not commonly known to be associated in a particular type of cancer the patient has.
Nevertheless, once we discover that these are the genes that are mutated or affected in these patients, then we seek out drugs that can be specifically used to treat those patients. This process is called precision medicine and is not commonly available.
What is the complete care cancer model?
At UF Health Jacksonville, we are able to have the needs of the patient at heart and have put together a program complete care. When a patient is suspected to have a urological cancer, or has been diagnosed with urological cancer at an outside institution, they can come to UF Health Jacksonville and we provide all the services they need under one roof by one team.
When patients with urological cancers are referred to us, they may have some very special needs. For example, cancer patients are under extraordinary amount of stress. They need psychological support and may need treatment by multiple specialists, which means they require care coordination between providers.
In addition, cancer patients may need advanced and state-of-the-art treatments. Therefore, they need to be at a facility with the resources to provide them with that kind of care. They also need providers, including world-class physicians, who are right at the forefront of the field, who can provide the kind of care cancer patients need.
If a patient is diagnosed with prostate cancer, they can be treated through medication, chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, all at UF Health.
If they need radiation therapy, that’s also offered here at UF Health Jacksonville. If the disease comes back, or progresses to more advanced stages, then it is possible that patients would need chemotherapy or immunotherapy. We offer chemotherapy and immunotherapy, right at the same site, by the same team.
This complete cancer care model is somewhat unique, certainly in Jacksonville, and even across the nation amongst academic health centers. Most institutions do provide this care and are capable of providing this care, but they are sometimes fragmented, causing possible delay and frustration to the patient.
Another important thing to note is that cancer patients have relationships with providers. They trust the providers and especially at the greatest moments in their life in terms of their need. So, because there is a strong relationship between us and the patients, we are able to help them to cope with the disease state in addition to undergoing the various forms of necessary medical treatment.
What happens after a urological cancer diagnosis?
Once we give a diagnosis of cancer, clearly patients and family have a lot of questions. More often than not, they will not have encountered a situation like this and patients look for reliable information. There is reliable information available on our website and national websites, such as National Cancer Institute, National Cancer Center Network and American Cancer Society. We recommend to our patients to visit these reliable websites so that they can get valuable and high-quality information.
Now, once a patient decides to come to UF Health Jacksonville for their care, then we will be able to see the patient the same day, the same week, or whenever the patient is available. However, depending on the insurance for the patient, there is a process called pre-authorization. If there is a need, we communicate with the patient that we will go ahead and see or schedule the patient even before the pre-authorization is approved, so that we can get going with the treatment plan. In the rare event the pre-authorization does not come through on time, we will alert the patient to the possibilities, but we would not want any of these to delay the care for our patients.
We understand how difficult it is for you and your family if you have been diagnosed with a urological cancer, or even suspected to have cancer. We are here to help. We are here to provide you with the best care based on what modern medicine can offer. And, we can offer all this under one team without any break in care at UF Health Jacksonville.
For more information or to get connected with our urology team, visit UFHealthJax.org/urology or call 904-383-1016 to make an appointment.