Breast Cancer (cont.)

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What type of medical team do I need for the most accurate diagnosis?

A well-coordinated team which includes input from the pathologist, surgeon, and radiologist is usually the best way to approach treatment decisions. Advice from the entire team must be available during biopsies and any tumor-clearing surgery to ensure the best chance of a favorable outcome for the patient.

How important is the role of the pathologist reading my slides?

The pathologist evaluating the slides made from fine-needle aspiration biopsies, core biopsies, and tissue slides of the breast must have a great deal of experience and special training. It is important that the pathologist reliably determine the presence or absence of cancer and distinguish cancer from other conditions such as hyperplasia with atypia (an overgrowth with unusual-looking but benign cells). The pathologist also orders and interprets special studies (see below) on your cancer tissue to determine the precise characteristics of the cancer cells, such as whether the cancer expresses hormone receptors. These results are used to further specify the type of breast cancer and optimize treatment decisions. The remainder of the treatment will be based on the pathologist's diagnosis.

Have my slides been reviewed by more than one pathologist?

A review by more than one pathologist is optimal. There are many subtleties which can be overlooked when reviewing microscope slides. These can lead to both over-reading (making a false-positive diagnosis) and under-reading (making a false-negative diagnosis). When slides are read a second time by another pathologist followed by a discussion of the conclusions, most diagnostic problems are resolved.

There are almost always several pathologists available who can review the pathology of your slides (this is termed a "double reading"). The added safeguard of double reading may not be necessary in most cases of breast cancers but can be a critical factor in some cases.

Can I have my biopsy reviewed by a pathologist at another diagnostic center?

It should always be possible to send slides from your biopsy to a pathologist at another diagnostic center. First of all, there should not be a rush to treatment; breast cancer is almost never an emergency. Developing the best treatment plan depends on a good, thorough pathologic evaluation as well as a complete workup of both breasts, as noted above. You should discuss this with your treatment team or primary care doctor as they can help you arrange for this.

Second, good pathologists are never offended by a request for an outside opinion. They also usually know the names of some of the finest breast pathologists in the country and should be willing to arrange a consultation with one of these doctors.

In most cases of breast cancer, it is not necessary to obtain this in-depth consultation. However, if there are any unusual aspects of your case, it can be important in your decision-making process. The matter of obtaining additional consults may take a week or more.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/25/2013

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