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Are Women With Breast Cancer Seeing The Most Experienced Surgeons?

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Up for a quiz? Great. Assume that you or your spouse were newly diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to see a breast cancer surgeon. How would go about finding a breast cancer surgeon to help treat your cancer? Remember, your treatment outcome is riding upon making the right choice.

In choosing a breast cancer surgeon would you:
  1. Select from list of surgeons available through your health plan.
  2. Go to a surgeon referred by another doctor.
  3. Choose the surgeon based upon their reputation.
  4. Go to a surgeon recommended by a family or friend.
  5. Go to a surgeon based upon the hospital where they worked.
  6. Go to a surgeon that was near my home.


A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center put these very questions to 1,844 female breast cancer patients in Detroit and Los Angeles.


Here’s what the study found*:

  • 15% selected their surgeon from the health plan list
  • 63% selected their surgeon based upon referral from another doctor
  • 25% selected their surgeon based upon their reputation
  • 15% selected their surgeon based upon the hospital where they worked
  • 13% selected their surgeon based upon the recommendation of family or friends
  • 9% selected their surgeon based upon proximity to home


* Respondents were free to cite more than one answer.

So which of these "selection methods" do you think gave breast cancer patients in the study the best odds of achieving a good outcome? According to the research, the best treatment outcomes for complex cases like cancer are associated with physicians and hospitals that treat high volumes of specific types of cancers e.g., breast cancer surgeon that perform a high volume of breast cancer surgeries.

The patients in the study most likely to experience the best outcomes were those who selected their surgeon based upon their "reputation." Why? As it turned out, these patients were more likely to get treatment from surgeons that did a high volume of breast cancer surgeries at specialized, high volume National Cancer Center-accredited hospitals. Study participants who selected their surgeon based upon reputation were also more likely to have seen two or more surgeons before surgery, i.e., more likely to seek a second opinion.

Interestingly, study participants who selected a surgeon based upon the referral from another doctor were less likely to end up being treated by a surgeon that did a high volume of breast cancer surgeries.

What’s the Bottom Line?

If you need a specialist for breast cancer or any cancer treatment for that matter, do your homework. Don’t settle for taking your doctor’s recommendation. The patients that proactively sought out information concerning the reputation of surgeon, including getting second opinions, were more likely to be treated b high volume surgeons at highly specialized cancer care centers.

For more on this study go to:

http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2007/breastcancersurgeon.htm
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About the Author


BA, MPH

Steve shares what he learned from his personal experience with cancer.

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