Should You See a Breast Specialist?

In the past 10 years, many surgeons have started breast-only practices, and patients with problems ranging from cancer to breast pain are lining up to see them. Should you follow?

By Rebecca Adler

Stick with Your Ob-Gyn If…

  • You just need a screening. "We’re the gatekeepers," says Mary Parras, MD, of New York’s Montefiore Medical Center. "We can examine you and then direct you to a specialist."
  • You find something new. If you feel a lump, breast pain, or lumpy thickening of the breast tissue, call your ob-gyn. Once she’s examined you, she may help you get an appointment with a specialist faster.

See a Breast Specialist If…

  • You’re at increased risk for cancer. "Breast or ovarian cancer in multiple family members or relatives younger than 40 is cause to see a specialist," says Rachel Simmons, MD, a breast surgeon at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. If your ob-gyn has suggested genetic counseling and you test positive, a breast surgeon should oversee regular mammograms and specialized screenings like MRIs and sonograms.
  • You have ever gotten suspicious biopsy results. Consider a breast specialist over a general surgeon if your results show abnormal cell growth or any tissue changes. Because these doctors work solely on breasts, they better understand the tissue makeup and the cancer treatments.
  • You’ve ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. "Many general surgeons never see you after your operation because they don’t see chronic patients, and breast cancer is considered a lifelong disease," says Deanna Attai, MD, a breast surgeon in Glendale, California. "But I’m in the best position to tell a woman if thickening in the breast is a change from surgery or a recurrence. I’ll know your breasts, and I’ll know what to look for." Breast specialists offer newer surgical and treatment options than a general surgeon who works on a colon one day and a breast the next. They’re also connected to a team of doctors, often housed under one roof, who can share your records and consult each other on test results and treatments.

How to Find a Specialist in Your Area

Get your ob-gyn or primary doctor to recommend one, or use the "doctor finder" service at the nearest cancer care center. Then call the doctor’s office and make sure the majority of her practice is breast. Some surgeons may have done a breast fellowship and/or may be affiliated with the American Society of Breast Surgeons.

Originally published on MORE.com, October 2006.

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