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How To Choose The Right Breast Cancer Doctors For You

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When a woman learns she has breast cancer, the news can be overwhelming, just when she needs to think clearly. Here are some vital tips to help you choose the right doctors for you, from leading breast cancer specialist Dr. Anne Moore.

Hello I'm Rene Syler, an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. And I've seen a lot of breast cancer up close and personal, with my mother and father both battling the disease. If you've just been diagnosed, you're probably wondering, how do I find the right doctor?

Joining me now is Dr. Anne Moore, the Medical Director of the Breast Oncology program at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Dr. Moore, good to see.

Thank you Rene.

I would imagine trying to find a doctor that works for you and with you would be somewhat of a daunting task for a lot of women. What are some of the things that they should remember as they go about that process?

Well, I think a woman with a brand new suspicion or a diagnosis of breast cancer is very anxious about getting to a doctor. I think your first call should be to your family doctor or your gynecologist. They know the breast surgeons. They know you. And I think that's probably the first port to go to.

When looking for my own doctors, I was starting to go down this path. I didn't have breast cancer, but I had, what I called, troubled breasts. And the first doctor I came upon was one that didn't click with me, necessarily. How important is that for the patient to find a doctor that they can really relate to. And the patient feels like they're getting the best care, and that the doctors listening to them.

I think it's important. And I think that's what women expect to find. And if it's not working, it's just like anybody that you meet. If that's not the right one, you can certainly say, thank you so much, and find another doctor.

There are some attributes I would imagine that you would recommend every doctor have, like what?

Well we certainly go for credentials.

That's a big one.

That's for sure. That's for sure. And if there's any question, the websites for The American Board of Internal Medicine, The American Society of Clinical Oncology, the surgical websites are important. And that is important. Beyond that, I think the recommendations from their peers, from other doctors, is very important also.

How much experience should a doctor have in treating cancer?

I think again, that's a tricky question too, isn't it? Someone fresh out of training could be wonderful, could be wonderful, and has the time to spend with you. And if they're in a situation where there's some mentoring, and you're confident about it, I think a young doctor could be a wonderful doctor.

I think a lot of times when people hear, or a woman hears, that she has breast cancer she thinks, I got to get this out of me right away. I have to find an oncologist tomorrow. I have to have surgery the next day. That's not necessarily the case is it? And if it's not, how much time is she allowed between diagnosis and treatment?

I think that is an important question, because, as you say, it's so, so scary for the woman, that you would like to get everything done by Friday, please. And the answer is she really does have a few weeks. She will visit with the surgeon.

If it's a question of a mastectomy, she may want to visit with a plastic surgeon. If there's chemotherapy involved, and we sometimes do it even before surgery, there'll be a medical oncologist. And they will all consult among each other, which is very important among the doctors. But this is often a team approach, and the doctors should be very willing and able to discuss that woman's case among themselves.

Should she opt for a second opinion? How many opinions should she get?

Again, sometimes it's so straightforward, that she really doesn't need a second opinion. If there are choices to be made, sometimes a second opinion just helps you think it through more clearly when you hear it the second time around. So I think a second opinion, if you have to time and the resources are available to you, a second opinion can always be helpful. But I don't think it's essential for every case of breast cancer.

When my mother was going through her breast cancer, and we were meeting with the doctor for the first time, I went with her. And I said, bring a pad of paper with you to write down the questions that you don't understand, and, also, maybe there were some questions that you wrote down before the visit that you would like to talk about. Is that one of the things that you would recommend to patients who are going for a first visit to the doctor?

Oh, I think it's very important, very important. As much as you think you're going to hear, I think you miss an awful lot. So bringing somebody with you as an extra set of the ears, I think, is great. Taking notes is great. Asking the doctor questions, very important.

And when you leave the appointment, I think you should be very clear, what the doctor is recommending and ask him or her to repeat it. Often you go out with a different impression of what the doctor actually said. So just be clear about it before you leave the appointment.

I think a lot of times people hear, you have cancer, and they think, I'm going to die. Cancer diagnosis does not always equal death, right? And I think that's important to note.

I think that's really important. The word, cancer, is so terrifying. The word, breast cancer, is so terrifying. The death rate from breast cancer has been going down steadily since 1990. There are two million women in this country walking around who had breast cancer. And they're doing very well.

Dr. Moore, thank you.

Thank you, Rene.

For more information you can visit the Susan G. Komen For the Cure website at www.komen.org, or you can call their helpline at 1-800-I'm Aware. I'm Rene Syler.

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