Building Your Breast Cancer Treatment Team

To find good docs, you first need to know which kind of docs you need.(ISTOCKPHOTO)This may be a team you never wanted to be captain of, but selecting your breast cancer treatment team is a vital first step in your care. Good doctors can make everything easier and maximize your chances for a complete recovery—and some of these people will be with you for years to come.

Your breast surgeon and your medical oncologist are likely to be the core of your team (ask your regular doctor or whoever has been following your diagnosis for recommendations about both). If your treatment protocol says radiation may be in your future, you'll also need a radiation oncologist.

Your breast surgeon
Be sure to choose someone who's a breast surgeon, not a general surgeon. You want a doctor with experience caring for lots of breast cancer patients. You may get through a single surgery and not see this person again, or you may need to make repeat visits. Some women require multiple surgeries to get "clean margins," a rim of cancer-free tissue surrounding the area where the tumor was.

Breast Cancer Team

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That was the case for Lesa Sverid, 44, of Plymouth, Mass., who ended up having four surgical procedures. She started out with an excisional biopsy that ended up being a lumpectomy, followed by a sentinel node biopsy, another lumpectomy, and finally a mastectomy in September 2007—after a pathology report showed that her cancer was still present.

Your medical oncologist
You're most likely to have an ongoing relationship with your medical oncologist—often over the entire course of your treatment, all the way through to follow-up care as a survivor. So if you put more time and energy into choosing one doctor more than the others, that's the one, advises Kate Clay, RN, program director of the Center for Shared Decision Making at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

Other doctors you may need
A plastic surgeon may also be part of Team You if you are considering breast reconstruction; make sure the focus of this person's practice is breast reconstruction of breast cancer patients, or that it's at least one of his or her primary interests or strengths.

You've probably already met with a radiologist during your diagnostic process; a pathologist created your diagnosis; and oncology nurses, social workers, psychologists, technicians, physical therapists, and nutritionists may also play roles in your care.

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