How to Find the Best Breast Surgeon

Get tips on finding the best surgeon if you need a lumpectomy or mastectomy

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, your first order of business will be finding a surgeon. In addition to removing cancer, breast surgeons advise you on whether you’ll need chemotherapy, radiation or both. Those treatments are then handled by an oncologist. John Connolly, Ed.D., president and CEO of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., which publishes guides to the country’s top doctors, explained the most important factors to look for in a breast surgeon.

1. Make sure the doctor is board certified in general surgery; the certification means she’s completed a residency in the specialty and passed an exam that ensures at least minimal level of surgical training. You can verify board certification at www.abms.org or by calling 1-866-275-2267.

2. Find out how much experience she has performing a mastectomy (breast removal) or lumpectomy (removal of only the cancer). Find out if she’s performing more than 100 of the procedure you’ll be getting annually, which equals about two a week. If not, consider another doctor. “There’s a lot of evidence that doing the procedure a lot gives you the best outcome,” Connolly says. “You want to feel this is someone you can trust and respect and relate to because this is a very emotional kind of surgery.”

3. Ask what steps the surgeon takes to avoid lymphedema, swelling of the arm that can occur after lymph nodes are removed. Instead of the traditional practice of taking all of the lymph nodes out during surgery, many surgeons now remove only a select number of nodes under the arm that may be cancerous n order to avoid lymphedema. “I’d avoid a surgeon who says ‘we’ll take out every possible node’ -- that’s not good practice today,” Connolly says.

If you plan to undergo breast reconstruction, look for a doctor who is board certified in plastic and reconstructive surgery. Since plastic surgeons perform a variety of procedures, search for one who specializes in breast reconstruction. Again, ask how many breast reconstructions he performs weekly or yearly, Connolly says.

Looking for more information or support? Visit our breast cancer community board.

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