Ask the Doctor: Finding the Right Treatment Center

By David P. Winchester, MD, FACS
Chair, National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers and
Medical Director of Cancer Programs, American College of Surgeons

Q. I have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and am now researching treatment centers. Are there specific services I should look for or important questions that I should be sure to ask?

A. More than 240,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and the number of breast centers that are available to provide treatment for their cancer is growing. To help women assess the standard of care at a breast center close to home, the American College of Surgeons National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) has developed the following patient checklists.

Approach to Breast Cancer Care

  • Does the center provide a medical-team approach to coordinate the best care and treatment options available? Is the team multidisciplinary? (A multidisciplinary team is made up of clinical experts from all the medical disciplines that treat breast cancer patients.)
  • Are your physician team members board certified or in the process of attaining board certification?
  • Will nursing care be provided by nurses with specialized knowledge of and skills in caring for patients with breast disease?
  • Does the center conduct a breast cancer conference to determine the best treatment plan for individual patients? Is the conference interdisciplinary? With an interdisciplinary approach, the patient’s condition is analyzed by all team members, and care is then coordinated so that all team members work together to develop a specific treatment plan.
  • Does the center provide access to breast cancer–related information and resources, educational programs, and support, including a patient navigation system to help guide you through provided and/or referred services?
  • Does the center conduct breast cancer data collection on quality indicators involved in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment? (Quality indicators are nationally accepted standards of care for breast cancer that are endorsed by a nonprofit organization called the National Quality Forum, which works to improve the quality of healthcare for all Americans.)
  • Are support and rehabilitation services provided by or referred to clinicians with specialized knowledge in diseases of the breast?
  • Will you have access to genetic evaluation and services to help manage your particular form of breast cancer?
  • Does the center provide information about clinical trials and new treatment options?
  • Does the center have a quality improvement standard to ensure that breast services, care, and patient outcomes are evaluated and improved continuously?

Survivorship and Life After Treatment

  • Does the center offer a survivorship program or services to help patients and their families cope with the disease?
  • Does the center have a plan in place for you to ensure follow-up care?

For more information on finding an NAPBC-accredited center, please visit www.accreditedbreastcenters.org.