I got an email recently from a work friend of my wife. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has pretty quickly scheduled surgery at her local hospital. She’d heard good things about the surgeon. Like any woman she wanted the cancer out as soon as possible.
Putting inflammatory breast cancer aside for this discussion (because that is really a “three alarm fire” and needs immediate care), I wanted to remind readers that the leading experts agree that the breast cancer cells were probably developing over many months and that treatment decisions do not have to be made in a rush. Second opinions, especially about surgical approaches, are wise. Should you choose lumpectomy and radiation? Should you have a mastectomy? Should you have both breasts removed? What about your ovaries? Do you need chemo before surgery? Should you do nothing?
These are not easy questions and, in the end, it is for the patient to decide. It is important to recognize that breast cancer approach continue to change. After early December, 2010 when 10,000 or so breast cancer experts convene at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium there are likely to be changes once again. So, for the breast cancer patient reading this, don’t necessarily assume the tried and true approach is right for you. Maybe yes, but maybe you need to ask more questions of other providers. There is an art to medicine and not all providers will agree. But you need to listen carefully to where they agree and where they may not so you make an informed decision.
I know this can be “crazy making” And I am not trying to introduce doubt when what you want is care you can trust. My overall message is to slow things down a bit, catch your breath and seek expert advice. And is not about just one doctor. It can be about more – a team. Do the radiologist, pathologist, surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist all work as a team? Do they debate your case? You want several smart people focused on you. That multi-disciplinary approach is the rage now at better medical centers. Demand it for you.