When patients are diagnosed with endocrine cancer, they generally see several specialists, from diagnosis through treatment. In the Eugene-Springfield area, those specialists work closely together through the Oregon Cancer Alliance to ensure they are delivering the highest quality care and the best possible outcomes.

What is endocrine cancer?

Endocrine glands produce hormones that trigger important processes, including metabolism, growth, reproduction and mood. Because hormones play such a key role in keeping the body balanced, both benign and cancerous endocrine tumors can cause serious problems and may require some form of treatment, such as surgery or radiation therapy.

Diagnosing and treating thyroid cancer

While cancerous tumors can occur in any of the major endocrine glands—thyroid, pituitary, adrenal or pancreas—thyroid cancer is the most common. Sixty thousand cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Thyroid cancer affects both men and women, however, it is the 4th most common cancer among females.

“The thyroid gland is part of our endocrine system. The thyroid’s role is really to regulate our metabolism,” says Dr. Nathan Christensen, an ear nose and throat surgeon with PeaceHealth.

While thyroid cancer is often detected during screening for an unrelated health concern, symptoms may include:

  • A lump or swelling in the neck
  • Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
  • Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away
  • Trouble swallowing

Physicians say thyroid cancer is typically a very treatable disease. Patients are generally seen by an endocrinologist and a surgeon, as well as other specialists.

“In Eugene, we have surgeons who are part of one group, endocrinologists who are part of another group, and radiologists who are part of a different group. So, in order to synchronize care for our patients, we work together under the banner of the Oregon Cancer Alliance to allow us to have that coordinated care for our patients in this community,” says endocrinologist Dr. Vipul Lakhani with Oregon Medical Group.

Physicians collaborate through what’s known as tumor boards. Dr. Christensen says, “Tumor board allows us to talk about the nuances of a person’s particular disease and what would be the benefits of a specific therapy for that person. We have a meaningful, real-time conversation, which I think definitely enhances the treatment the patient receives.”

Monitoring outcomes

Endocrine specialists in the Eugene-Springfield area are also members of CESQIP—the collaborative endocrine surgery quality improvement program. Through this secure registry, endocrine patient’s surgery information is collected and analyzed, allowing physicians to measure quality of care through patient outcomes.

“To be on the CESQIP map, so to speak, to be a center that has been approved to enter data is an honor for our community,” says Dr. Christine Kollmorgen, an endocrine surgery specialist. “We have 775 endocrine surgery patients in the registry and their data is measured and the quality is superb.”

CESQIP was formed in 2012 by endocrine surgery leaders from the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons with expertise in outcomes tracking. It utilizes concepts of continuous quality improvement to advance outcomes and optimize costs. This is accomplished through patient-centered data collection, ongoing performance feedback to clinicians, and improvement that is based on analysis of collected data and collaborative learning.

“Being members of CESQIP sends a clear message about how we’re going to care for patients,” says Dr. Kollmorgen. “And then we can actually measure the outcomes of those care plans and know that what we’re doing is making a difference, and we’re seeing improved outcomes by being uniform in our approach.”