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UPMC On TopicBreast Cancer: Empowering patients

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Ronald Johnson, MD
Co-Director, Magee-Womens Breast Cancer Program

I think it’s important that when women are diagnosed with breast cancer they understand that if they were to come to the Magee-Womens program their voice is going to be heard. They are going to be an active participant in their breast cancer care and the hopes and dreams and wishes of both the patients and their families are going to be taken into consideration by a diverse treatment team that’s responsible for their care.

Almost 100 percent of the patients who come through our Breast Imaging Center have their diagnosis of breast cancer established not by surgical biopsy but by the breast imager using a little tiny needle to take a sample of the tumor and give it to the pathologist. This affords the patient the opportunity to understand their diagnosis before they’ve had an operation and to participate in outlining a treatment plan that affords them the opportunity to have one operation result in treatment with curative intent.

Breast preservation

So breast cancer surgery is vastly different now than it was just two generations ago. A woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer now has the opportunity, in most instances, to consider operations that don’t result in amputation of the breast.

The cancer program here at Magee-Womens Hospital boasts one of the state’s highest rates of breast preserving surgery. In circumstances in which the patient does have to have a mastectomy, our plastic surgeons use advanced microscopic microvascular techniques to use sometimes complex tissue transfers from either the abdomen or the back, and the appearance of the reconstructed breast can in some instances very closely resemble the natural breast. We now realize the complexities of cancer care and the number of people that are involved in navigating a woman through the maze of treatments that she’ll receive. It’s an advantage to her if she comes to the Magee-Womens Cancer Program because all of those people have been housed under a single roof, and we try to make it easy for both the patient and her family to walk through that maze, come out at the light at the end of the tunnel and be able to resume their normal life.

Return to normal

I think it’s important to remember that UPMC and Magee-Womens Hospital brought together a group of physicians that have dedicated themselves to providing high-quality breast cancer care for the purpose of maximizing the likelihood that a patient will be cured of her disease, while at the same time returning quickly to her natural life, hopefully to her natural form, regaining the status that she had before her breast cancer diagnosis, and empowered that she was an active participant in her breast cancer care.