Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Milwaukee VA Cancer Care - Q & A
Q: What type of cancers do we treat?
A: We provide treatment for all cancer diagnoses. The most common types we see are prostate, head and neck, and lung cancer. We also treat many patients with breast, colorectal, pancreatic, liver and skin cancers.
Our patients have access to specialists in radiation, medical and surgical oncology. This gives us many options, and we offer treatment for the vast majority of presentations. From time to time a patient might need highly specialized treatment that we may not provide. If that happens, your specialized treatment at a non-VA facility will be covered by VA.
Q: What makes cancer care at VA standout from care in the community?
A: At VA we provide multidisciplinary cancer care by a team of health care providers all under one roof.
This includes access to the radiation oncologist, surgical oncologists, and medical oncologists for coordinated multimodality treatment. The excellent care our patients receive starts with case conferences with our varied cancer care professionals. We bring everyone to the table to answer your questions in one place, so you can understand all your options and the care we’ll provide. We want you to know you aren’t going at this alone.
These discussions involve all of the cancer care specialties in addition to pathologists, radiologists and other support services critical for accurate diagnosis and staging. As part of the care team, our coordinators will work directly with you and our providers to schedule and coordinate all your appointments.
You will be taken care of very quickly from the diagnosis to the care, and these times are as good or better than in the community. In addition, our Radiation Oncology department maintains ACR accreditation (https://www.acraccreditation.org/), that shows our practice adheres to nationally recognized standards. Many community hospitals don’t hold this kind of accreditation.
We are here every step of the way to offer support and the help you need to fight cancer.
Q: What are the most common diagnosed cancers in VA?
A: The most frequently diagnosed cancers are prostate, lung and bronchial, colorectal, urinary and bladder cancers, and skin cancer. We recommend healthy lifestyles, regular check-ups with your primary care provider and frank discussions with your doctors when you have any concerns.
Q: What research has VA done and continuing to do on cancer?
VA has been at the forefront of cancer research and care since 1932. In 1950, it was a VA doctor in Hines who found strong circumstantial evidence linking smoking with respiratory tract cancers. VA researchers were also the first to invent a nicotine patch to help smokers quit. You can learn more about all of our cancer research at: https://www.research.va.gov/topics/cancer.cfm
At your Milwaukee VA, we have a dedicated cancer clinical research office committed to providing Veterans with the access to the latest treatments. We participate in clinical trials through VA, the National Clinical Trials Network and some pharmaceutical companies
Q: Are there any research or experimental programs I can take part in?
A: Availability of clinical studies depends on the type and stage of cancer. We evaluate all patients for clinical trial participation and discuss these options at the time of consultation.
Q: How do your doctors diagnose cancer?
A: The first step is a good history and physical examination. Then tests are done such as X-rays, CTs, MRIs or PET scans, or scoping procedures to evaluate any findings on exam or concerning symptoms. If something is found, a biopsy needs to be done.
Q: Once I am diagnosed with cancer, what happens next?
A: After the biopsy, additional tests or X-rays may be needed to determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is based on the extent: how big the primary tumor is, if there are any involved lymph nodes nearby or if it has spread to other areas or organs in the body. Then the patient is referred to the appropriate specialist or team of specialists for recommendations regarding the best form of treatment or combinations of treatment.
Q: What are my treatment options?
A: This depends on the type of cancer, the stage and location. It may involve chemotherapy, radiation and surgery or just one or two of the treatments. You can rest assured we will treat you or your loved one with the best, state-of-the-art care and equipment.
Q: What are my survival rates for cancer?
A: This also depends on the type and stage of cancer. Every cancer and the symptoms it causes can be different. After your work up is complete, your doctor will discuss prognosis and goals of treatment.
Q: Why should I choose to come to VA for my cancer treatment as opposed to VA Choice or some other care in the community?
A: VA provides well-coordinated, multidisciplinary, state-of-the-art therapy by teams of physicians who specialize in different cancer types. We work closely with our academic affiliate to provide this world-class care and participate in life-changing clinical trials that give veterans access to the most up-to-date treatments.
It is helpful to have all care centralized to coordinate treatment and avoid unnecessary delays. You will be treated by a group of care providers who are dedicated to your successful fight against cancer, and we will be with you every step.
Q: How many cancer patients do you treat each year?
A: In 2017, our Radiation oncologists saw 412 patients and we delivered 360 courses of radiation therapy.
Q: How long is cancer treatment?
A: For some types of lung cancer, as few as three radiation treatments are required. In other situations, with more advanced lung cancer, head and neck cancers or prostate cancer, it may require 30 to 45 treatments with radiation.
If treatment is given for palliation to relieve symptoms one treatment with radiation is frequently is all that is needed. Chemotherapy also varies based on the type of cancer. (You can talk about how it differs for each type of cancer and give a range)
Q: What is radiation oncology?
A: Radiation Oncology is a medical subspecialty that uses radiation to treat cancer, either to cure the disease or to reduce symptoms from the disease. Radiation used in treatments is custom shaped to deliver the proper dose to the cancer locations, while sparing the normal organs as much as possible. Each radiation therapy course is highly customized to the location of cancer.
Q: What happens once I go to radiation oncology?
A: If radiation is required, the radiation oncologist will discuss why treatment is recommended and expected side effects. A simulation is done which determines the position for treatment and marks are put on the skin for set-up once treatment starts. A CAT scan is done and this information is used in the computer system to design a radiation treatment specific to the location of the cancer and the normal anatomy of the patient. Our equipment allows us to pinpoint the exact area of the cancer to limit the effects on surrounding areas of the body. Once the planning is completed, the patient starts radiation. Treatment is generally given five days per week for six to eight weeks. Each treatment takes 15-20 minutes.
Q: Can I have my choice of cancer treatments, or must I follow a specific regimen?
A: The cancer team recommends what they feel is the best treatment based on your diagnois and tumor board discussions. Your physician will discuss all the options with you. Sometimes treatment options such as surgery or radiation may be equally as effective. The final decision on treatment is ultimately made by you.
Q: What happens after the initial treatment? How will I know if I am cancer-free?
A: Radiation therapy treatment is usually given over multiple days. This is called “fractions.” The number of fractions depends on the disease. The first day of treatment is the longest. You will come to the radiation therapy room. Radiation therapists will recreate your position from the initial CAT scan and align to the marks on the skin. A special scan using the treatment machine and X-ray pictures from different angles will be taken to make sure the position is correct and aligns with the plan that was created.
All images are taken for purposes of alignment and are not used to evaluate your disease. Your doctor will review all the images. Once the position has been verified, the machine will rotate around you pausing at several spots to deliver treatment. In general, you will be done with treatment in about 20 minutes.
Once a week you will stop by the clinic and see your doctor to check on how you are doing. Once you are done with the whole radiation therapy course, you will return to our clinic on periodic basis. More follow up imaging might be ordered, and you might see other physicians on your cancer care team as well.
Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center Earns ACR Accreditation
The Radiation Oncology program at Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwuakee has been re-accredited for a new three-year term ending on Oct. 31, 2021 as the result of a recent review by the American College of Radiology (ACR).
Radiation oncology is the careful use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer. A radiation oncologist may use radiation to cure cancer or to relieve a cancer patient’s pain. The ACR is the nation’s oldest and most widely accepted radiation oncology accrediting body, with over 700 accredited sites, and 30 years of accreditation experience. The ACR seal of accreditation represents the highest level of quality and patient safety. It is awarded only to facilities meeting specific Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards developed by ACR after a peer-review evaluation by board-certified radiation oncologists and medical physicists who are experts in the field. Patient care and treatment, patient safety, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality control procedures, and quality assurance programs are assessed. The findings are reported to the ACR Committee on Radiation Oncology Accreditation, which subsequently provides the practice with a comprehensive report they can use for continuous practice improvement.
- Building 111, Main Hospital
Hours of Operation
- Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.