A coordinated approach defines modern breast cancer care. Many Lowcountry practices now hold weekly interdisciplinary meetings where doctors, surgeons, geneticists, oncologists and other specialists review options and details of the patient’s needs before coming to a consensus about treatment.
“That’s really the best way to keep everything together and to give each patient the individualized care they need,” said Dr. William Burak, a breast surgical oncologist at the Center for Breast Care at Memorial Health University Physicians. He also treats patients at Hilton Head Hospital.
Some facilities have a nurse navigator who helps coordinate all aspects of treatment and support for the patient. These nurses provide emotional support, education and referrals for needed resources including transportation.
“The nurse navigator takes the patient through every step,” said says Jackie Brown, clinical manager at the Breast Health Center at Beaufort Memorial Health Center. “The navigator acts as a point of contact if they have questions.”
Among her many roles, Judy Horton, nurse navigator at the Breast Health Center at Bluffton Medical Campus, says she works with hospital social workers and financial counselors as well as local organizations to help patients who need transportation, housing and financial support for daily living.
In addition, some types of surgery for breast cancer has become much more targeted. Local surgeons are using a state-of-the-art radar technology called Savi Scout. A reflector is implanted in the patient’s breast so that the surgeon can find the area in the breast by scanning the for the reflector instead of following a wire, said Dr. E. Perry Burrus, medical director of the Beaufort Memorial Breast Health Center.
“SaviScout has changed the entire process of surgery for myself and patients,” said Dr. Rochelle Ringer, surgical oncologist with the MUSC Breast Health Center in Bluffton. “It's a much easier procedure than wire placement for patients.”
New breast cancer treatments and surgical techniques have reduced the amount of surgery many patients receive. Instead of a radical mastectomy, many have a partial mastectomy or a lumpectomy.
Burrus said that 20 years ago, patients underwent much more surgery, especially if cancer was found in a lymph node.
“Years ago, they used to just take out all the lymph nodes,” he said. Now, the center is using sentinel node injections to identify what nodes need to be removed, if any. "The result is fewer complications and fewer long-term effects.