Choosing the right surgeon after a breast cancer diagnosis
Last year, an estimated 252,710 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with new cases of invasive breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer is usually detected during a screening examination, before symptoms develop, catching many women off guard. Within the blink of an eye, they are confronted with many life-changing unknowns that require immediate attention. What treatment is available? How will treatment affect daily life? How do you choose a specialist?
One way to help manage the stress of uncertainty following a cancer diagnosis is to find an oncologist or surgeon who can explain treatment recommendations in detail. Kristen Massimino, M.D., is a board-certified surgical oncologist who specializes in the treatment of breast cancer as the regional director of breast surgery for Providence Oregon. She believes that a cancer surgeon should not only be able to explain a treatment, but also reassure and empower patients.
We asked Dr. Massimino about other important traits to look for in a cancer surgeon, and what the first appointment might entail. Here’s what she said.
Q: When a patient learns she needs breast cancer surgery, what should she look for in a surgeon?
A patient should look for a surgeon who specializes in the treatment of breast cancer. A cancer surgeon is someone who’s done advanced training in the treatment of cancer patients and some training in the treatment of breast cancer specifically, or has a practice focused on caring for patients with breast cancer.
In 2017, there were more than 5,000 studies published pertaining to breast cancer. It can be really helpful to have a surgeon whose job it is to keep ahead of the most up-to-date treatments for breast cancer, whether it be medications or surgical treatments.
We’re lucky at Providence to also have a world-renowned cancer research center, and this allows us to have the option to take advancements in basic science and translate those into treatments for patients.
Q: When you meet with patients before surgery, what do you discuss?
A breast cancer surgeon is often the first physician that a patient sees. Most women come in with a lot of fear and anxiety, as you can imagine, so a lot of that initial visit is reassuring women that there are a lot of great treatments for breast cancer, that most women do very well with this diagnosis,
We talk about the big picture of breast cancer treatment that includes therapies beyond surgery. We then talk in more detail about surgical options for women. The good news is that most women have some choice in their treatment. Though that can be overwhelming, we explain those choices and together come to a decision for the right treatment.
Q: What do you hope the patient takes away after meeting with a cancer surgeon?
I hope that at the end of the first visit, patients feel reassured about their treatment options. I hope that they feel they are empowered to make decisions with respect to their care. We have a really wonderful group of motivated, smart and caring people at Providence – all of whom have the same goal, and that’s to help and support women from the time they have a diagnosis through every phase of their treatment, Our goal is to be there, to reassure women at diagnosis and to share their joy when they finish their treatment.
Q: What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who learns she has breast cancer?
I would reassure women that, though it’s scary to hear a diagnosis of cancer, there are treatment options for women and men diagnosed with breast cancer at every stage. So, in every stage of disease, we have treatment options for you.
To learn more about breakthrough cancer treatments at Providence, and so much more, visit finishcancer.org.