How do surgeons and oncologists work together? Who else is involved in the medical care of a breast cancer patient?
Treatment of breast cancer actually involves several different disciplines of medicine. Several physicians will work together to care for a single patient. Most often, the patient’s primary care physician or gynecologist will discover the cancer, or it will be found by a radiologist reading a routine screening mammogram. The surgeon will operate to remove the tumor, and to check for spread of tumor to the lymph nodes. Sometimes a patient will have the entire breast removed, and then have the breast reconstructed by a reconstructive surgeon. A pathologist will evaluate the tissues that are removed to help determine the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer, and look for any markers or receptors that may point out “weak spots” in the cancer that can be targeted with different medications. Once the main tumor has been removed, the patient will need to see a medical oncologist, who will treat any cancer that may have spread and help the patient reduce her risk of recurrence. The medical oncologist will often follow the patient for many years. If a patient needs to have radiation, she will also work with a radiation oncologist. Patients thought to be at risk for carrying the “breast cancer gene” may also meet with a genetic counselor.