Research-based Breast Cancer Surgery
Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital nurse navigator Jennifer Tepper, MSN, APN, CNS, breast surgeon/oncologist Tara Breslin, MD, MS, FACS, and nurse navigator Cathy Spagnoli, MSN, APN, CNS
A surgeon explains what you should know
No one wants to receive a diagnosis of breast cancer. The good news is that having the right surgeon can make all the difference in your experience.
We talked with Tara Breslin, MD, a board-certified breast surgeon, about what patients should know. Dr. Breslin recently joined Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital as medical director of the breast care program. She is an award-winning breast cancer researcher who worked as a surgeon and assistant professor in top academic medical centers for many years before joining Northwestern Lake Forest.
Q: A patient with breast cancer is referred to you. What happens next?
A: At the initial consultation, we review the diagnosis and all of the patient’s treatment options. Successfully treating breast cancer patients means understanding who is or isn’t a candidate for the different therapies. An important part of the consultation is discussing what happens after surgery. The more the patient understands the full spectrum of care, the better her outcomes and recovery.
Q: How do you address concerns about pain?
A: I start discussing the postoperative experience well before surgery. But typically, pain after breast cancer surgery is very manageable, and patients are only on a short course of narcotics followed by over-the-counter pain medication. Other cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, may cause pain and discomfort. But we have a wide variety of supportive care available to help patients manage.
Q; Mastectomy patients are, understandably, concerned about appearance. What do you tell them?
A: Women have more options today for preserving and improving appearance during breast cancer surgery. I work with the reconstructive or plastic surgeon (my referral or the patient’s choice) to determine a plan for when reconstruction, if desired, is appropriate for their cancer type and stage. A surgeon should also be knowledgeable about the latest skin-sparing techniques. It’s important that your surgeon balance the best possible cosmetic result without compromising the medical, oncologic outcome.
Q: Do surgeons who specialize in breast cancer with a high volume of surgeries also have better outcomes?
A: Many patients are well cared for by general surgeons and oncology surgeons, some of whom may perform only a low volume of breast cancer surgeries. However, a surgeon like myself who specializes in breast cancer surgery may be more deeply involved in research and the entire spectrum of multidisciplinary care. For example, I have more than 12 years of experience exclusively performing breast cancer surgeries and a high annual volume. I am also deeply involved in research and other projects aimed at improving diagnosis and management.
Q: You hear about independent “cancer centers.” How do these differ from hospital-based centers like Northwestern Lake Forest?
A: Some institutions and for-profit companies have begun describing themselves in this way—it suggests a “one-stop-shop” for breast cancer patients. However, the reality is that patients do not see these different specialists all at once or on the same day. It’s a longer, phased process that varies with each patient.
However, one of the most important factors in good breast cancer outcomes is access to evidence-based, multidisciplinary care (oncology, radiology, physical therapy). At Northwestern Lake Forest, we have an excellent multidisciplinary team, and we offer a convenient, full spectrum of breast cancer care. We can also connect patients with other advanced services at the Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.