What Do All of My Doctors Do?
For many women, their gynecologist is their primary care doctor. Your gynecologist will be caring for you throughout your treatment and beyond. She may be the person who provides a referral to a breast surgeon and/or oncologist. She will be the one keeping an eye on your ovaries because there is an increased risk of ovarian cancer once you are diagnosed with breast cancer. She will also be the one you will go to if you want a hysterectomy (procedure to remove the uterus and cervix) and/or oophorectomy (procedure to remove the ovaries).
The radiologist is the doctor who reviews the results of screening tests such as mammograms and ultrasounds. This doctor may be the one that finds your cancer while it is still very small (perhaps still too small to feel). Apart from reading films, radiologists also perform biopsies in their offices utilizing mammogram or ultrasound technology.
You should use a surgeon that specializes in breast surgery. These doctors know how to make incisions that do not affect the rest of the breast and they know techniques for making biopsy and lumpectomy sites less noticeable. They may also well-versed in different possible procedures, including skin-sparing and nipple-sparing procedures [Skin-sparing and Nipple-sparing surgeries], not that all procedures are possible for everyone. If your surgeon does not know about these possible procedures, find another one!
If you decide to have reconstruction you will need a plastic surgeon that specializes in breast reconstructive surgery.
The ideal plastic surgeon is one who has worked with your breast surgeon in the past. It is a team effort in the operating room and all the members of the team need to be able to work well together. With a mastectomy with reconstruction, your breast surgeon will remove the breast tissue and any lymph nodes that need to be removed for analysis, then the plastic surgeon will take over.
This is the doctor who will attempt to rid your body of any stray cancer cell that may have been left behind during surgery. She will discuss options with you and help you decide what the best protocol is for you. Options include chemotherapy and hormonal treatments, that can stop cancer from growing. She will set up a regimen of treatments and, along with her staff of trained oncology professionals, will monitor your response to treatment, as well as any adverse side-effects you may experience.
Ask the doctor who knows you best, either your primary care physician (PCP) or your gynecologist for a referral. She will help you select an oncologist that is respected in the medical community. Then you must meet with her to decide if you feel comfortable working with her. This will be a very long-term relationship (10 years or more) so you must trust your oncologist and feel very comfortable with her.
Among all of your doctors, except for your gynecologist, she is the one you will see for the longest period of time.
The oncology nurse has had special training in caring for cancer patients. Nurses who work with cancer patients are some of the most wonderful, loving, caring people you will ever meet. Quite a few of them are survivors themselves, so they really do understand what you are feeling.
This doctor is not the radiologist you saw who diagnosed your cancer. This doctor treats your cancer after it has been found if you decide to have radiation treatment.
You will see this doctor before you begin radiation to discuss the treatment and so that he can answer any questions you may have. You will go to radiation treatments every day but you only see the radiation oncologist once a week, when he checks your skin and asks you how you are tolerating the treatments.