A breast cancer diagnosis is the beginning of a long journey for about one in every eight women at some point in their lives. While an overwhelming majority of breast cancer occurs in women, about 2,700 men in the United States are also diagnosed with the disease each year, with the highest incidence occurring in black men.
Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer is life changing. Your normal routine will undoubtedly be altered. You’re anxious about what is to come and you’re facing a whole new vocabulary in terms of medications, procedures, treatments, and more.
A breast cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming. But knowing what to expect step by step and having someone who can help you through your treatment can make you feel more comfortable and confident.

Diagnosing breast cancer

When a lump is found in a breast or a mammogram shows an area of concern, a patient is typically referred for a procedure known as a needle biopsy. This procedure is performed by a specialty trained breast imaging specialist.

During a biopsy, the patient is given a local anesthetic to numb the area. Using diagnostic imaging as a guide, the physician inserts a needle into the area in question. A small amount of tissue is removed and then studied by a pathologist to determine whether it is cancer.

Coordinated breast cancer care and the patient navigator

At Lifespan, once a diagnosis is confirmed, a patient is referred to the Center for Breast Care of Brown Surgical Associates. A breast surgeon can determine how advanced your breast cancer is as well as the best surgical option to help prevent the disease from spreading. The referral also sets in motion a team of staff dedicated to coordinating the initial consultation for the patient.

First, a patient navigator who is the coordinator for the Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic (MDC) at the Lifespan Cancer Institute will connect with the patient by phone. This key member of the team becomes a resource and lifeline for the patient not only in the initial days after diagnosis but throughout a patient’s plan of care. 

The navigator will work with surgical staff to obtain all pertinent records and coordinate a streamlined initial consultation in the MDC. This represents the cornerstone of a comprehensive approach to breast cancer care.  
In 2014, we developed the MDC at the Lifespan Cancer Institute, the first and only of its kind in the state of Rhode Island for breast cancer care. A collaboration of five departments – surgery, medicine, oncology, breast imaging and breast pathology – we developed this approach to:

  • streamline the initial patient assessment
  • foster a team approach to cancer care across the disciplines
  • shorten the time of uncertainty for the patient

A team of breast cancer experts

The patient will meet their surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist sequentially on the same day. In some instances, the patient is seen initially at the Center for Breast Care of Brown Surgical Associates and referred to the MDC for the multidisciplinary experience.

These experts will then present the patient's case in a meeting known as a "live tumor board." During these meetings, which occur at the hospital, breast imaging and pathology slides are reviewed and discussed by specially trained breast radiologists and pathologists.

The group will consider all aspects of the patient's diagnosis as well as individual needs to develop the best personalized treatment plan for each patient. These experts also look at whether each patient is eligible for and might benefit from enrollment in state-of-the-art clinical studies that might offer novel approaches to treatment. This team will work in concert throughout a patient’s treatment.

In addition, each of our patients will work with an expanded team of advanced practice professionals that includes nurses, navigators, physical therapists, social workers, and genetic counselors. These providers are part of the team who contribute to the care of the breast cancer patient both during the MDC visit and throughout their course of treatment.

While early detection is key, completing a treatment plan is also crucial for survival. A coordinated approach to breast cancer care for each individual patient is the best way to achieve that.

For more information on breast cancer treatment and our team of experts, visit our website

Theresa Graves, MD

Theresa A. Graves, MD

Dr. Theresa A. Graves is the Director of the Breast Cancer Center at the Lifespan Cancer Institute.