How to Choose a Breast Surgeon

Nurse comforting patient in waiting room
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A diagnosis of breast cancer brings with it an immediate need to make good choices at a time when you may be least prepared to do so. You need to make a plan for getting care when you are struggling with the fears that breast cancer triggers. Like most of us diagnosed with breast cancer, you don’t know where or how to begin.

Begin by reaching out to a family member or friend who is a breast cancer survivor or someone you feel close to that is level-headed and not squeamish in a treatment environment. Ask her/him to function as your navigator helping with research, accompanying you to medical appointments, and being a sounding board as you make treatment decisions.

Usually, the first member of your breast cancer care team you need to choose is the breast surgeon. Unless you know a breast surgeon by reputation, you will need to get referrals from trusted sources, starting with your gynecologist or primary-care physician. Remember, while it is great to have faith and trust in your doctor when it comes to a referral, you need to do your homework. Doctors usually refer to other doctors they know professionally and are affiliated with the same hospital where they have privileges.

Ask your doctor for referrals to a few doctors affiliated with a cancer treatment center or a major hospital with a track record of treating numbers of breast cancer cases. Once you have those names, get on the Internet, go to the treatment center or hospital the doctors are affiliated with and review their credentials, including:

  • Is he or she a general surgeon who does breast cancer surgery, or is he or she a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer surgery, or has done a residency in breast cancer at a hospital that specializes in cancer treatment?
  • Is he or she Board-Certified in his or her specialty?
  • Does he or she accept your insurance coverage?
  • If you are not satisfied with what you read about these physicians, contact a major cancer center in your area, and choose two surgeons from their physician’s directory.
  • Make a commitment to yourself to meet with a minimum of two surgeons before choosing the surgeon you want to treat you.
  • Make an appointment with each surgeon; take your navigator; pay attention to the attitude of the hospital or office staff. Keep track of waiting time before seeing the doctor and the time the doctor spends with you.

Be Sure You Are Comfortable With His or Her Attitude During Your Visit

  • Go prepared with a list of questions; ask your navigator to take notes and ask questions, from your list, that you may have forgotten to ask. Be sure to find out if all testing can be done in one place and done quickly, or if the doctor needs to refer you to a few different facilities for additional testing.This can be one of the determining factors in your choice of physicians and hospitals or treatment centers.
  • Once you are comfortable that you have the right doctor, make appointments for the needed tests, making sure first, that the facility providing the test accepts your insurance.
  • If you have a choice…mastectomy or lumpectomy, take time to once again do your homework. Research what is involved in each surgical treatment to determine which one you feel is right for you.
  • Be sure your surgeon explains to you what your surgery will entail, what you need to do to prepare for surgery, and anticipated hospitalization and recuperation time.
  • If you want reconstruction, ask the surgeon for referrals to plastic surgeons he works with on a regular basis.

    Remember, be your own advocate. Every member of your care team needs to know you want to be a partner in your care.

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