Breast cancer is one of the most anxiety-inducing diagnoses a woman can receive. She worries about her family, her health, her work and what the diagnosis will mean in the coming months and years. From the first 48 hours after a patient’s referral to well past her treatment, the multidisciplinary team at the Center for Breast Care at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center concentrates on a simple principle: easing that anxiety.
That team includes surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists connected to UMass Memorial Medical Group, medical oncologists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a reproductive and endocrine oncologist, and a geneticist. Each patient can expect to be sitting down with a breast care physician within 48 hours of her referral. That appointment is often coupled with diagnostic imaging or biopsy and additional consultations with specialists, all located in the same building. Within hours of that visit, members of the team meet to discuss the best course of treatment to present to the patient.
“We are very aware of making this as seamless and convenient a process for the patient as possible,” says Jan Rothschild, MD, breast surgeon at the Center for Breast Care at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. The physicians at the Center for Breast Care also treat benign breast conditions.
“In one morning, a woman can see a surgeon, a radiation therapist and a medical oncologist. We then sit down on the same morning to look over the X-rays and the pathology slides and come to a conclusion as to the best treatment for that patient. It’s done very efficiently and with a great deal of expertise.”
—Kevin O’Donnell, MD, breast surgeon and Chief of General Surgery at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center
Whether a woman comes to the Center for Breast Care with a diagnosis or an undiagnosed concern, she typically meets first with a breast surgeon. Dr. Rothschild and Kevin O’Donnell, MD, also a breast surgeon and Chief of General Surgery at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, can each serve as a kind of primary care physician during a patient’s treatment, addressing the surgical management before additional therapies are incorporated. The board-certified surgeons can provide a range of options tailored to the patient’s individual disease and preference including breast conservation — sometimes called lumpectomy with radiation therapy — or mastectomy, which can be skin-sparing or nipple-sparing. Drs. Rothschild and O’Donnell also evaluate affected areas for the potential spread of cancer to the lymph nodes.
When it comes to medical oncology, the Center for Breast Care now also offers its patients access to one of the most well known names in cancer care. Thanks to a partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, medical oncology services such as chemotherapy and biologic and targeted therapies are available at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center side-by-side with a patient’s other procedures.
“Dana-Farber is now located at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center,” Dr. O’Donnell says. “The oncologists who see our patients here are Dana-Farber oncologists and have access to all the resources that any Dana-Farber physician has. This partnership brings those resources under the same roof as the other services at St. Elizabeth’s.”
Nurse navigators help guide patients facing a cancer diagnosis.
“There are typically a lot of steps that need to be taken before a physician and patient will come up with a final plan for treatment,” Dr. Rothschild says. “The nurse navigator is crucial in keeping all those steps in order.”
The three nurse navigators at the Center for Breast Care serve as patients’ mentors and advocates. They provide follow-up information when a patient remembers the questions she forgot to ask during a physician visit, the connection to education programs and support groups before, during and after treatment, and the expertise of more than 50 years of experience caring for patients with breast cancer. One of the nurse navigators is, herself, a breast cancer survivor.
A patient’s first step in her survivorship following treatment can be one of reconstruction. With the addition of board-certified plastic surgeon Michael Tantillo, MD, to the multidisciplinary team, a full range of reconstructive options is now available, from prosthetic implants to the use of a patient’s own tissue. The complex techniques are planned in tandem with the oncologic surgery, ensuring that a patient’s choice of curative treatment will not affect her cosmetic outcome. For patients facing mastectomy, St. Elizabeth’s now also offers same-day breast reconstruction, including using their own tissue or synthetic tissue in the most up-to-date surgical procedures available.
“Over the last number of years, more patients have opted for mastectomies or even bilateral mastectomies,” Dr. Rothschild says. “According to the patient’s preference, those procedures can be coupled with immediate reconstruction.”
Following a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, the Center for Breast Care becomes a long-term home base offering rehabilitation, annual mammography and any other ancillary support. Some patients have even been coming to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center for the past 20 to 25 years.
Dr. Rothschild consults with a patient at the Center for Breast Care at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.
“That speaks first of all to the fact that breast cancer is curable,” Dr. O’Donnell says. “Secondly, it speaks to the fact that these women really feel at home here.”
St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center recently earned the prestigious American College of Radiology Breast Imaging Center of Excellence designation for its expertise in mammography, stereotactic breast biopsy, breast ultrasound and ultrasound-guided breast biopsy. The center also offers the latest in diagnostics, including 3-D mammography, the most advanced screening for breast cancer developed in the past 30 years. Appointments with same-day readings are available.
For more information or to refer a patient, please visit semc.org/breastcare.