Rogerio C. Lilenbaum, MD, FACP, FASCO

By Vanessa Orr

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be devastating, and it often leaves people with far more questions than answers. One of the most difficult things for patients to deal with at this time is not knowing where to turn and not being able to quickly get in touch with experts who can help guide them through the process.

“A diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing event; when patients receive the news, there is a tempest of emotions not only about their own future, but that of their families and loved ones,” said Rogerio C. Lilenbaum, MD, FACP, FASCO, senior vice president and chief physician executive at Jupiter Medical Center and director of the Anderson Family Cancer Institute (AFCI).

Believing that patients ought to be able to reach a cancer expert as soon as possible to understand the nature of the disease and what options are available, the AFCI has established next-day appointments for those who are newly diagnosed with the disease.

“Traditionally, the first consultation usually takes place when the doctor has most of the information they need, the majority of studies have been completed, and they are ready to sit down and provide the patient with a personalized treatment plan,” said Dr. Lilenbaum. “And while there is great value in doing that, the process can take up to two weeks if not longer.

“Next-day appointments have been shown to alleviate anxiety and suffering on the part of patients and families just by having the opportunity to discuss aspects of the disease, including staging procedures and treatment options,” he added.

While this fundamental change in how oncologists approach the first patient consultation will help to assuage many patients’ concerns, operationally, it required a substantial internal shift in how the Anderson Family Cancer Institute operates. “It required a change in how we answer calls; how we process next-day requests; how we obtain information and how we engage team members,” said Dr. Lilenbaum. “A process that generally takes up to two weeks now needs to be done in 24 hours.”

In addition to seeing patients within a day of diagnosis, the Anderson Family Cancer Institute is also expanding access to clinical trials, which are foundational to the treatment of the disease.

“I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve had who had the opportunity to participate in clinical trials which led to a much-improved outcome,” said Dr. Lilenbaum.

Jupiter Medical Center recently developed a partnership with UF Health, the University of Florida’s academic health center, which will enable it to bring clinical trials to cancer patients, some of which include treatments that are not available outside a research setting. Some trials test different ways to administer or combine existing drugs, according to Dr. Lilenbaum, while others are truly experimental.

“It is particularly gratifying for us to have options when the so-called ‘standard’ options have been exhausted,” said Dr. Lilenbaum of the program that will launch in early 2023.

He added that patients already have access to expertise within the AFCI that is not widely available nationwide and especially not within Palm Beach County.

“What we do here is absolutely cutting-edge,” said Dr. Lilenbaum. “We have award-winning surgeons and premier medical and radiation oncologists who are nationally known specialists that can manage cases with a degree of complexity outside the expertise of general surgeons or general medical oncologists. This includes one technique that utilizes chemotherapy inside the abdomen for some of the more aggressive cancers.”

The Institute was recently named as a Center of Excellence by the National Pancreas Foundation for the work it does in pancreatic cancer and received High-Performing Awards from U.S. News & World Report for colon cancer surgery and lung cancer surgery.