By Surgical Oncologist Troy Kimsey, MD, FACS

I became a surgical oncologist — a surgeon who specializes in working with cancer patients — because I felt the Lord leading me to serve patients who are facing the trials of a cancer diagnosis. I have been privileged to offer my surgical skills and medical support to cancer patients during a time in their lives that can be both medically and physically challenging and emotionally overwhelming.

In recent years we have witnessed many changes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, including breast cancer, which is a special area of emphasis during the month of October. For example, from the 1880s through the mid-1900s, the radical mastectomy was the standard surgical treatment for breast cancer. Some surgeons were still routinely performing the radical mastectomy into the 1980’s.

Today, we have less invasive surgical procedures, such as lumpectomies rather than removal of the entire breast, and removal of sentinel axillary lymph nodes rather than removal of all of the axillary lymph nodes. Surgery is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation to effectively treat cancer while conserving the breast.

Along with great advances in surgical techniques, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, the greatest advances in improving outcomes in patients with breast cancer have been in screening and early detection. Advances in mammography and minimally invasive biopsy procedures provide more effective screening tools for spotting cancer cells at an early stage.

In addition, new research has helped us understand tumors and their biology better, laying the groundwork for the development of targeted treatments that are specifically directed at different types of cancers. For example, hormone receptors and growth factor receptors identified on certain breast cancers have allowed us to develop targeted treatments against these receptors.

Collaborative approaches are helping us provide more effective and supportive treatment for breast cancer patients. In years past, the medical professional who first saw the patient was usually the primary resource for her treatment.

In contrast, today at Thompson Cancer Survival Center we have a multidisciplinary team of medical specialists including oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, geneticists and nurses who meet on a weekly basis to individualize both treatment regimens and support services to meet the specific needs of each breast cancer patient.

This collaboration brings multiple resources together to provide the best evidence-based care for each patient. It also allows patients to be involved in their care and to have clear discussions with their doctors so that they have a good understanding of complex treatment plans.

Our greatest challenges are ensuring that women understand the importance of early detection and providing access to screenings and treatment. Public awareness about breast cancer has improved (many football teams are even wearing pink this month!), but we need continued community participation to increase education about breast cancer screenings, advances in treatment and the availability of resources for women and families who are facing a cancer diagnosis.

Through improving access to screenings and early diagnosis, developing collaborations among patients and medical professionals for optimal treatment strategies, and increasing the availability of community support and resources, we can continue to make a significant impact on the outcomes of patients with breast cancer. This is a goal that is well worth pursuing.

Dr. Troy F. Kimsey is a surgical oncologist with Premier Surgical Associates and medical director at the Thompson Cancer Survival Center.