Expert Q&A: Getting the Best Breast Cancer Treatment
An interview with Duke University Surgeon Lee Gravatt Wilke, MD
Q: When should I seek a second opinion?
A second opinion is important for a patient who doesn’t feel she understands
her treatment options. With some late-stage cancers there aren’t a lot of
options, but with most early stage cancers there are. The patient should be the
driver. If the patient doesn’t understand the treatments being proposed or
wants to hear about them in a different way, a second opinion is important.
Q: I’m overwhelmed with all the information I’m getting about my cancer and possible treatments. How do I remember it all?
Many of my patients bring either a family member or friend to act as a
second set of ears or to write everything down. If a patient doesn’t have
someone with them, bringing a tape recorder is not a bad idea. And a patient
can ask the doctor to write down key points, if they aren’t doing this
Q: Should I join a cancer support group?
That depends. If a patient feels it would be beneficial, then support groups
are great. But I have patients who have actually been made to feel guilty
because they don't want to join one. People who aren’t particularly social to
begin with aren’t going to become social after learning they have cancer. These
patients may be more comfortable gathering the information they need and
digesting it on their own.
Q: How do I find the right doctor or treatment center for me?
Again, if you don’t feel comfortable with the doctor you are referred to,
get a second opinion. The Commission on
Cancer is a good place to go for information on top surgical centers. A
joint consortium of health organizations including the American College of
Surgeons and the American Cancer Society, the Commission has accredited more
than 1,400 cancer programs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Q: When should I consider traveling for treatment?
That’s a tough one. If there are complexities with the cancer, such as a
strong family history or a large tumor, a patient may want to consider
traveling if they don’t live near a treatment center that has been accredited
by the Commission on Cancer (CoC). The National Cancer Institute also
designates cancer centers and comprehensive cancer centers of excellence. A
list of these centers can be found on the NCI web site.