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The Important Role of Pathology at CentraCare - Willmar Cancer Center

Published in Cancer Care, Medical Professionals

As a pathologist at CentraCare - Rice Memorial Hospital, Dr. Steve Vanderwerf is used to working behind the scenes—at least when it comes to patient care. But his job is a very important one for CentraCare - Willmar Cancer Center.

How Pathology Ties into CentraCare - Willmar Cancer Center

Pathology is the study of organs, tissues and bodily fluids, which are used to make a diagnosis of a disease like cancer. Often called the doctor’s doctor, pathologists like Dr. Vanderwerf work closely with a patient’s care team. When cancer is suspected, Dr. Vanderwerf and the team of pathologists at CentraCare - Willmar Cancer Center are brought in to run tests, to determine a patient’s prognosis and to assist the oncology team on choosing the best treatment plan.

“Willmar Regional Cancer Center is such a gem in our region. We have a top-notch healthcare team with substantial resources available right at their fingertips. People don’t know just how much we can do right here at the Cancer Center from testing and diagnosis to treatment,” Dr. Vanderwerf said.

Having trained in the Twin Cities and as a regular attendant at yearly national pathology meetings, Dr. Vanderwerf sees first hand that the Carris Health Cancer Center is on the cutting edge of individualized cancer therapy. Whether the testing is performed on site or through our partnership with Mayo Medical Laboratories, the Cancer Center is able to provide a full array of diagnostic testing to guide targeted chemotherapy when indicated.

Providing Support to the Cancer Center

For six years, Dr. Vanderwerf has been providing support to CentraCare - Willmar Cancer Center. He loves the basic science of pathology, but the most rewarding part of his job is being able to provide a patient and their family with answers they need to move forward.

“There is a certain gratification any pathologist feels when they place a slide with tissue sample in the microscope and are able to see what’s going on with a patient,” Dr. Vanderwerf said.

Dr. Vanderwerf spends many days tied to his desk, reviewing microscopic tissues taken during a patient’s biopsy. Every day and every slide is different. But like many rural pathologists, he wears several hats. He’s also a lab director for smaller hospital systems in the region, performs bone marrow biopsies, fine needle aspirations and autopsies and frequently holds educational seminars for providers.

“If I had become a pathologist in a larger city, I’d have a narrower scope of practice. At Rice Memorial Hospital and CentraCare - Willmar Cancer Center, I get to do a little bit of everything,” Dr. Vanderwerf said. “I am lucky enough to not only love what I do, but to work with great people. I work side by side with providers and ancillary staff throughout the region including the Cancer Center. There is constant communication about what’s going on with a patient, whether it’s a recent diagnosis or following a patient throughout their cancer journey.”

While dealing with cancer diagnoses is something he sees all too often as a pathologist, he understands how difficult a diagnosis is for a patient and their families—especially in a community where he often knows the patients.

“We may not often have direct patient contact, but it’s important for us to bring comfort to families by providing them with their test results as quickly as we can. I’m thankful to be a part of what’s happening at CentraCare - Willmar Cancer Center.”