It Takes a Team to Fight Breast Cancer

At Sentara’s breast centers on the peninsula, patient care is a team effort. Breast cancer is a complex disease that demands physicians and health care providers to collaborate on each diagnosis and treatment plan in order to achieve the best possible outcome. This is why for over a decade, our local breast cancer experts have come together to participate in Sentara’s dedicated Breast Conferences.

Sentara’s Breast Conference is a weekly meeting of surgeons, radiologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and nurse navigators. The “multidisciplinary team” openly discusses each patient’s diagnosis and a treatment plan is then based on the consensus of a group of breast cancer specialists.

The real benefit of multidisciplinary care is that patients have access to the latest research, procedures and technology through a group of breast cancer specialists and may feel more confident that they have explored all of their options.

Our experience and current studies have shown outcomes are better for patients when all of the cancer experts involved in a patient’s care gather to consider treatment options and develop a plan for that individual patient. This team approach to treating breast cancer is offered to patients at Sentara comprehensive breast centers on the Peninsula – the Dorothy G. Hoefer Comprehensive Breast Center and Sentara Williamsburg’s Comprehensive Breast Center.

Who’s on my team?

Radiologist (Mammographer)

A radiologist is a doctor specially trained to read and interpret breast images. Many times they are able to make the diagnosis through a minimally invasive needle biopsy. The goal is to detect breast cancer at its earliest stage to improve outcomes. There are many tools for looking at breast tissue including 3D mammography, ultrasound and breast MRI. We are proud to have a team of radiologists, fellowship trained in breast imaging, who have demonstrated their ability to find breast cancer at earlier stages than the national average, offering Peninsula women the best chance of beating this disease.

Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator

Deeply committed, highly skilled nurse navigators are an additional support system available to patients. Their assistance extends from the original imaging/clinical finding through all aspects of treatment and follow up. An advanced knowledge of the patient and treatment plan allows them to relay critical information between medical departments in a timely manner – making the experience easier and less stressful for everyone. Our Nurse Navigators provide educational materials and support group information, and assist with transportation issues and financial concerns. They help patients identify any anticipated barriers, helping to ensure successful completion of treatment.


Our surgeons are specialists in breast cancer surgery. The surgeon plays a pivotal role in organizing and facilitating a patient’s treatment plan, in addition to arranging appropriate staging studies. They perform lumpectomies that remove the cancer but preserve as much normal breast as possible. This option, followed by radiation therapy, has become the most common treatment for women with early stage breast cancer. Additional surgical procedures include mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy and axillary node dissection. Surgeons also work closely with plastic surgeons to discuss reconstruction options in order to provide the best possible cosmetic outcome.

Medical Oncologist

A medical oncologist is the doctor who determines if medicines like chemo, hormonal, or targeted therapy should be part of a patient’s treatment. Chemotherapy drugs work by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells that grow and divide quickly. These drugs may be given before surgery to shrink tumor cells or after surgery to help reduce the risk of recurrence. Targeted therapies are drugs aimed at specific cancer cells and can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy. Hormonal therapy, typically taken as a pill for up to 5 years after diagnosis, works by depriving breast cancer cells of the hormone estrogen many need to grow. Not every woman with breast cancer needs these treatments, and cancer conferences provide a forum for deciding this critical issue.

Radiation Oncologist

Radiation therapy is high dose x-rays used to kill cancer cells and decrease the risk of recurrence after surgery. Radiation Oncologists are doctors who manage this treatment option. Advances in radiation therapy over recent years offer women more options than ever. Before surgery, a surgeon will consult with the radiation oncologist to confirm which radiation options may be best for the patient. This collaboration allows the surgeon to further tailor his or her surgical plan for that patient.

Pathologist’s Role

A patient may never meet the pathologist, but these physicians provide critical information on each patient’s case. The pathologist provides a diagnosis based examining biopsy tissue specimens under a microscope. If the diagnosis is cancer, they may use molecular studies to help clinicians decide what treatment will be most effective. They also examine lymph node tissue to determine if the cancer has spread. The findings are presented during the cancer conference to help the entire team better understand features of that patient’s cancer to help guide care.

Incredible advances in breast cancer treatment and options, constant updates to national guidelines, and new access to clinical trials demand that breast cancer patients receive the counsel of a team of experts. This team approach allows breast cancer patients to achieve the best possible outcomes.

The Dorothy G. Hoefer Comprehensive Breast Center and Sentara Williamsburg Comprehensive Breast Center have both been accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) and recognized by the American College of Radiology as a “Breast Center of Excellence”.

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