The Breast Institute: How Does it Work?
By Michal Whiton, MD
There are few patients who require input from more experts than the newly diagnosed patient with breast cancer. For what was once considered a single disease is now understood to be an incredibly large and varied family of diseases, whose only common trait is the site of origin – in the breast. Unique combinations of treatments are required for the various subtypes of breast cancer, making coordination between multiple specialties extremely important.
Breast cancer treatment began over a century ago with surgery alone, but has expanded to a virtual orchestra of expertise that includes breast imaging specialists, pathologists, geneticists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, reconstructive surgeons, and physical therapists with expertise in managing lymphedema. Research has shown that when the coordination of care between specialists is optimized, it produces better outcomes and better patient experiences.
The Breast Institute 2016-present
Oncologist Theodore Kim, DO, established The Breast Institute at the Skagit Regional Health Cancer Care Center in 2009. With a generous grant from the Safeway Foundation, the program is designed to increase our community’s access to coordinated multidisciplinary breast cancer care, offer wellness surveillance visits for survivors, and provide education for our community in all aspects of breast health. For those diagnosed with breast cancer, the goal of The Breast Institute is to help guide patients through the complex system of cancer care as simply as possible, while also coordinating the critical discussion between specialists regarding the best path of treatment.
Here’s how it works: After a patient undergoes a biopsy that confirms the presence of breast cancer, the next step is for the patient to be referred to The Breast Institute by calling the patient navigator at 360-814-8148. The patient navigator immediately calls the new patient, and begins coordinating appointments with a surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. These three appointments are essential so that a patient understands what kind of treatment each specialty provides, and the likely timing of their specific treatment. The new patient’s case is then presented at a weekly Breast Institute conference, where imaging and biopsy results are reviewed by the group of specialists who discuss consideration of genetic testing, further imaging studies such as breast MRI, surgical and reconstructive options, and in some cases, the use of chemotherapy prior to any surgical intervention. Further testing – if needed – is then arranged, results are again reviewed with the group, and a final personalized management plan is developed which represents a consensus of all involved specialists.
The Skagit Regional Health Cancer Care Center is a network member of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
, which is a partnership between the world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s. This close relationship with the experts at the SCCA provides physicians and their patients with access to clinical trials and the latest breast cancer research.