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Rockford, Ill. – At the beginning of 2023, cancer care at UW Health in northern Illinois transitioned to subspecialties, a system that gives patients access to oncologists who have expertise in one or a few specific cancers.
This transition was designed to better serve patients in the region, according to Dr. Nameer Mardini, medical oncologist, UW Health in northern Illinois.
Previously, medical oncologists at UW Health in northern Illinois were general medical oncologists, each caring for patients with all types of cancer, but specialization is more important than ever, he said.
“In the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve had an explosion of treatment options for cancer,” Mardini said. “Research has continued to reveal the complexity of the disease and we’re always working to better personalize treatments for each patient, which requires in-depth learning for oncologists.”
Oncologists will specialize in one of the following cancer groups: Breast and gynecologic cancers, lung and head and neck cancers, prostate cancer and gastrointestinal cancers such as stomach, pancreas, liver and colorectal cancer, or blood and bone marrow cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
This practice has a long history in medicine because physicians used to handle all types of injury and disease, and now specialists range from neurologists to podiatrists, Mardini said.
With oncologists at UW Health in northern Illinois now specializing in specific cancers, they can deepen their knowledge, join specific tumor boards and tap into networks of specialists across the United States and beyond, he said. They are also working closely with colleagues at UW Carbone Cancer Center in Madison, Wis.
UW Health is the first health system in the Rockford area to transition to this model. The process to subspecialize in northern Illinois began in 2021 and became official on Jan. 1, 2023.
Surgical oncologists also specialize in specific cancers, which is standard practice for cancer centers. Radiation oncologists, experts specially trained to treat cancer using radiation, will not specialize in specific cancers.
Ultimately, subspecialties for medical oncologists are about better care and communication for patients, Mardini said.
“We are already seeing how this makes a difference for our patients and our physicians,” he said. “We’ve been able to see more patients and see patients faster, and that means more people getting the diagnosis and treatment they need in a timely manner.”
UW Health will be reviewing how the change impacts survival rates, recurrence and other metrics over time compared to national data.