All patients with early breast cancer should have access to care from a range of disciplines, according to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Multidisciplinary care (MDC) teams should include surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, breast care nurses and general practitioners, as recommended by the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre.
A survey sent to all breast surgeons in Australia and New Zealand revealed that:
- 85% of surgeons were part of at least one fully established MDC team.
- The six recommended disciplines were well-represented in most teams, with general practitioners the most poorly represented.
- Most team meetings occurred after surgery when the pathology results were obtained, to discuss treatment options.
- Most practices had established a communication framework; however, patients were more likely to be discussed in a multidisciplinary forum in public hospitals than private practice (91% versus 83%), and meetings were more likely to be weekly.
- MDC teams were less common in rural areas, and weekly meetings occurred rarely.
The results of this unique study indicate that breast surgeons in Australia and New Zealand accept the importance of MDC in the treatment of breast cancer patients. However, to ensure that all patients have access to MDC, policymakers must address the difficulties of rural practices in establishing multidisciplinary forums. Surgeons in private practice also need to be encouraged to conform to the standards reached by public service surgeons in this area.