Upstate’s Thoracic Oncology Program turns 20

SUNY Upstate’s Thoracic Oncology Program — or TOP, as it’s known by medical providers — is celebrating 20 years this November.

It follows a multidisciplinary team approach. Specialists from multiple disciplines comprise the team, which meets formally to collaborate on the care of individual thoracic oncology patients. Team members include medical, surgical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, imaging specialists, pulmonary specialists, nurse practitioners with specialized training, nutritionists, social workers and patient navigators.

Such a team approach — which is typical at major cancer institutes — has been shown to significantly boost a patient’s survival.

The Upstate Cancer Center has several multidisciplinary teams for various types of cancers, including breast cancer, head and neck cancers, gastric and esophageal cancers, and pediatric cancers.

Physician Leslie Kohman cham-pioned the team concept at Upstate two decades ago because ”it gives better care to the patient, and it saves the patients a tremendous amount of time getting around to all of those different appointments,” she says.

“Also, almost all cancer patients need more than one modality. Very few patients are treated with just surgery or just chemotherapy or just radiation,” Kohman says. “To have experts from all those disciplines discuss treatment up front is very beneficial to the patient.”


Thoracic surgeon Jason Wallen is medical director for TOP. He says the team approach means every patient has every option open for discussion. “It’s kind of like getting eight or 10 second opinions all at once, in a single visit.”

Such team care is natural at an academic medical center, where doctors and caregivers are encouraged to seek input from one another.