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Breast Cancer

The Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven provides coordinated, state-of-the-art care for patients with benign and malignant diseases of the breast.  For patients diagnosed with breast cancer, we offer dedicated care, innovative treatment options, and cutting edge research, coupled with the recognized excellence of a National Cancer Institute designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. A great deal of progress in the detection and treatment of breast cancer has been made in recent years, and our physicians are on the leading edge of finding even better solutions. 

Our Center is accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, and was the first National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Northeast to hold this designation.  Women with a diagnosis of breast cancer are cared for by a multidisciplinary team of physician specialists, including radiologists, breast surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, and plastic surgeons.

At Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, patients benefit from the expertise of a team approach to cancer care.   Our multidisciplinary team meets weekly in our Tumor Board Conference to review cases and provide patients with the optimal care plan, ideally suited to them.  Decisions are based on the most up-to-date research to ensure that all patients receive the best available breast cancer treatment.  In addition, nurses, social workers, physical therapists, psychologists and other health professionals are key members of the team, providing the necessary supportive care throughout the breast cancer journey.  Our goal is to ensure the highest standard of patient- and family-centered multidisciplinary care that takes care of the whole patient.  

From the tranquility of the building and the range of services offered by complementary therapy and the boutique, to the most sophisticated personalized therapies and equipment offered in every discipline, Yale offers the perfect blend of art and science to help you through your journey.   We are committed to tailoring treatment to you.  At different points in time, you may need different resources – at Smilow, we are pleased to provide you with coordinated appointments with all of the appropriate specialties at the right time, accommodating your personal values and schedule. 

Breast Surgery

Breast Imaging

The breast imaging center performs well over 20,000 breast examinations each year.  These consist of screening and diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasounds, digital tomosynthesis, and MRI examinations.  The newest technology, digital tomosynthesis, creates a three-dimensional picture using breast x-rays for review.  This allows our radiologists to look very closely at the breast tissue, often minimizing the need for repeat mammograms.  In addition, we offer radiologist-performed ultrasound, and 3-Tesla breast MRI.  The radiologists at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven are recognized as leaders in their field and are involved in teaching, both on a local and a national level.

Breast and Reconstructive Surgery

Although many general surgeons perform breast surgery, there is no question that dedicated breast surgeons have the experience and knowledge to handle difficult or unusual cases and generally are more likely to understand the complexities of breast diagnosis and treatment.  The surgeons at the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital perform breast surgery exclusively, and are nationally known as being leaders in the field.  Historically, Yale surgeons were among the first to perform a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy and were instrumental in the development of non-invasive procedures like sentinel lymph node biopsy, intraoperative guidance by ultrasound, and advanced oncoplastic procedures.  Our surgeons are experienced in cutting-edge modern techniques such as skin-sparing and nipple-sparing mastectomy, and often work hand-in-hand with our plastic surgeons to offer a variety of options for breast reconstruction. 

Reconstructions vary from placement of a simple implant to elaborate reconstructions using natural tissue from the abdomen or back, such as TRAM or DIEP flap reconstruction. Careful attention is given to achieve the highest chance for cure while achieving the best possible cosmetic result and quality of life for women with breast cancer.  In each case, the approach is customized to best fit the goals and lifestyle of the patient. 

Medical Oncology

Many patients with breast cancer also need drug therapy, such as chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy.  Our team of nationally renowned experts in breast medical oncology utilizes both standard approaches and new ‘biological’ or ‘targeted’ therapies to attack the cancer specifically while avoiding harm to normal tissues. 

Investigators at Yale are famous throughout the world for elucidating the biology of a cellular receptor called HER2.  Our medical oncologists have been particularly successful in developing treatment strategies for HER2 positive breast cancer and have extended this expertise to provide effective therapies for triple negative/basal like and ER positive breast cancer.  They continue to study innovative new treatments, and patients at Smilow Cancer Hospital have the opportunity to receive such novel therapies through exciting clinical trials not available elsewhere in Connecticut. 

Our medical oncologists are known for their unique expertise in breast cancer, and all new cases are discussed weekly by the breast cancer medical oncologists so that every patient benefits from the combined expertise of the entire group.  In addition, our medical oncologists are happy to see patients for a second opinion.  While many patients will opt to have their care at Smilow Cancer Hospital, we work closely with our colleagues at Smilow Care Centers, located throughout Connecticut, to ensure that patients can receive the same high quality care in the most convenient setting for them.   

Radiation Therapy

Treatment with radiation is an integral part of therapy for many breast cancer patients today.  Smilow Cancer Hospital’s Radiation Therapy Center has state-of-the-art radiation therapy facilities in the lower level of the hospital.  Yale radiation oncologists were some of the first to begin treating breast cancer patients with lumpectomy and radiation therapy, and have been leaders in the field in research and clinical care of patients who receive radiation. The radiation oncologists at Yale consistently seek out the best methods for the delivery of radiation therapy to our patients, including the use of accelerated partial breast irradiation – a faster, more convenient treatment for women who are appropriate candidates.

Pathology

One of the most important elements of modern breast cancer treatment is the pathologic evaluation of tumors, and increasingly, the ability to profile tumors allows patients access to novel treatments that may be most effective for treating their particular tumor.  Yale is fortunate to have one of the finest pathology departments in the country, complete with a high-level tumor profiling service.  And, because it operates “behind the scenes”, patients are frequently not aware of its importance.  Today, breast cancer is divided into an increasingly complex number of categories based on a whole host of sophisticated molecular markers that were not identified a few years ago.  Pathologists therefore play a crucial role in our Tumor Board conferences.  They carefully review the characteristics of each patient’s tumor, and help the clinical team to define optimal treatment strategies best suited to the individual patient.

Genetic Counseling and Testing

Genetic counseling and testing is an important tool in guiding management and surveillance for patients with breast cancer and their family members.  Breast cancer patients with early-onset (<50 years) cancer, a triple-negative breast cancer before age 60 years, or of Jewish ancestry are candidates, as are all patients with a family history of a genetic mutation, or of breast, male breast, ovarian, gastric or pancreatic cancer. Our team of graduate-trained and board certified genetic counselors are here to navigate insurance pre-authorization, pre- and post-test counseling and ensure that the correct test is ordered and that it is interpreted accurately.  In addition, our genetic counselors work closely with a team of specialized breast and gynecologic oncologists, who can provide options for patients at high-risk.

Patient Support Services

The Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital places great emphasis on taking care of all of our patients’ needs, with the best medical care available and a network of supportive care services.  Our intake specialists will ensure that you have everything you need for your first visit with our team, and our clinical secretaries and schedulers will work with you to coordinate your appointments to fit your busy schedule.  Physicians at the Breast Center work closely with our patient care associates, nurses, advance practice providers, and nurse coordinators to ensure that you feel well-informed and supported every step of the way.  In addition, our team extends to a myriad of essential services including social work, pastoral support, dietary and nutritional aid, physical therapy, complementary therapy, pain management, and psychosocial support.  In addition, Smilow offers a state-of-the-art Survivorship Clinic that employs a multidisciplinary team approach designed to optimally address patients’ needs after treatment ends.  We work closely with collaborators at the Yale School of Public Health, so that women have the opportunity to participate in studies designed to promote health and wellness before, during and after treatment through interventions like healthy eating, physical activity, and mindfulness.

Clinical Trials

We are committed to not only providing you with the very best care today, but are dedicated to cutting-edge research and innovative therapies that will advance the standard of care tomorrow.  Our doctors and nurses work hand-in-hand with Yale Cancer Center scientists to find the answers to cancer – cracking genomic codes that will lead to better therapies, less toxicity, and one day, a cure.  You can be part of this revolution.  Patients who participate in clinical trials tend to do better than those receiving standard therapies, and by participating in this important research, can help us move the field forward for others.  Ask your doctor about what clinical trials might be right for you, and how you can participate.

How to Make an Appointment

The Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital provides women with convenient appointments, rapid diagnosis and treatment, and access to the most up-to-date technology and research protocols.  Most importantly, women receive personal, friendly, confidential care that is designed to meet the needs of the whole patient, not just the disease.

When you call, a patient intake coordinator will help to arrange your appointments so that you will see all of the specialists needed during an initial visit.   

What to Bring on your first Appointment

For your first visit, it is most helpful if you can bring all available breast imaging films and reports, pathology reports, slides, doctor’s referral notes, and the results of any other pertinent tests or consultations.  The patient intake coordinator will be glad to help you organize this so the physicians will have everything needed to ensure efficient and prompt management of your medical care.