Choosing a doctor to treat your breast cancer may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Your primary care doctor may refer you to one or more specialists. These doctors often work together as a team.
Why Do I Need So Many Doctors to Treat Breast Cancer?
Once you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your chances for getting the best possible care are highest if all your health care professionals are involved at the beginning, when you're diagnosed. It's very important that all of the people who will be involved in your diagnosis and treatment work together.
What Is a Specialist?
Specialists are doctors who have trained in a specific area of medicine. After finishing the training needed for their specialty, they must pass an exam given by the specialty board. Doctors who pass the national board exams become board-certified specialists. Doctors who have not completed the specialty board exam are "board-eligible," but they are not yet specialists.
Some specialists can subspecialize as well by completing more training in a particular area. They can sometimes become board-certified in the subspecialty, too.
Should I Look for a Board-Certified Cancer Specialist?
Board certification is a sign that a doctor is highly trained in his or her field. Several fields related to cancer care have national boards responsible for setting standards that doctors must meet in order to be certified. But some of the specialties that are important in cancer treatment don’t have board certifications. Doctors who practice in these specialties are board-certified in a broader field. For example, there is no board certification for breast cancer surgery. Surgeons performing breast cancer surgery should be board-certified in general surgery, which gives them the basic skills needed to perform breast surgery.
If doctors practice in specialties that do not have national boards, additional training, such as fellowships, and years of experience are usually good measures of their qualifications.
What Does Each Specialist Do?
Medical oncologist. A doctor who specializes in the medical treatment of cancer. Medical oncologists have a thorough knowledge of how cancers behave and grow and how to use medication to treat them. They also figure out the risk of the breastcancer coming back, as well as the need for more treatments (such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or radiation therapy). The medical oncologist manages your overall medical care for cancer and monitors your health during your treatment. He or she checks your progress frequently, reviews your lab and X-ray results, and coordinates your medical care before and after your treatment.