January 13, 2022 by Muriel Sommers
Breast Cancer Treatment Becomes Personal
Today’s breast cancer treatment has evolved into highly personalized care that begins at the molecular level and covers not only medical and surgical strategies, but the patient’s overall sense of wellness.
“Not all breast cancers are the same. There are so many subtypes of breast cancer that we can target with personalized treatment, because we have a better understanding of the biology today and what works,” says Jane Mendez, M.D., chief of breast surgery at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida.
“For example, if you have a tumor that responds to the estrogen and progesterone, I know we can prescribe endocrine therapy. However, if your breast cancer is triple negative — which means it is negative for estrogen, progesterone and excess HER2 protein receptors — that’s not going to help you in any way,” Dr. Mendez says.
Dr. Mendez notes that Institute physicians invest a lot of time and energy to help patients understand the particulars of their breast cancer. “We talk to patients about all the options as we determine their individual therapy, including all the risks and the benefits,” she says. “The patients participate in the decision-making process. Our patients are our partners, and we want them to be empowered. We don’t dictate what the treatment should be.”
EXPERT CARE WITH THE INDIVIDUAL IN MIND
The multidisciplinary approach that is the hallmark of Miami Cancer Institute brings together a wide range of specialists to tailor care and deliver an outstanding patient experience, combining the expertise and insights of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, medical geneticists, rehabilitation oncologists, pathologists, imaging specialists, breast reconstruction specialists and many others. Each builds on the strengths of the other. Patients are embraced in an environment that is driven by science but also filled with unparalleled compassion and hope, says Dr. Mendez, who also oversees the Institute’s Breast Cancer Prevention Clinic for high-risk patients.
The only Florida member the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance, Miami Cancer Institute provides patients access to groundbreaking clinical trials not widely available elsewhere, in addition to the highest level of medical expertise and most advanced technology. Personalized treatment and follow-up plans are tailored to the type and stage of each patient’s breast cancer, as well as their personal preferences, age and general health.
“All our services are under one roof, which is great in terms of the patient care, patient experience and communication,” Dr. Mendez says. “That is a great asset.”
As one of the only cancer centers in the world to offer all of the latest radiation therapy technologies, Miami Cancer Institute provides patients a wide range of treatment options — Cyberknife, Gamma Knife, MRLinac, Radixact image guided radiation therapy, brachytherapy, proton therapy and others. The Institute is the only APEx-accredited proton therapy center in Florida.
“We’re not just adapting the only technology we have to their case. We have all the technologies and can determine, given the patient’s circumstances and individualized needs, what is the best one for them,” Dr. Mendez says. “It’s great to have the breadth of options to tailor to the individual patient.”
THE HUMAN TOUCH
Part of the personalized approach also comes from the staff and wide range of clinicians who have made cancer care their mission, including attentive, compassionate and specialized nurse navigators who guide patients through every step of their treatment. “They are the constant throughout he journey,” Dr. Mendez says. “It’s like taking the patient by the hand. For the patients, it is really helpful knowing there is this one person they can contact or email who is there to help and answer any additional questions.”
Concern for the patient experience is at the core of Miami Cancer Institute and extends through every level, from the check-in desk to the physicians and administration. “I don’t want my patients to feel like just a number, because that’s what I hear when they go to other places — they feel like just a number,” Dr. Mendez says. “We at Miami Cancer Institute are here for the patients. We want to share that human experience, make our patients feel valued and cared for, and have them know we are fully vested in their cancer journey. This is a critical part of treatment. And it’s the truth.”
Miami Cancer Institute takes a broad approach to care that is found in few institutions, Dr. Mendez says.
“Besides all the treatment options, we also think about the holistic approaches as well — for instance, we offer nutrition, exercise, physical therapy, rehab oncology, yoga, massage therapy and acupuncture to complement their treatment. We even have a boutique for wigs and where patients can be measured for new bras,” she says. “It’s all part of addressing the wellbeing of the patient. It’s not just about treatment — it’s about everything that comes along the journey, including the psychosocial support, the rehabilitation support and a very strong survivorship program that continues to follow patients after their treatment is complete.”
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
The impact of outstanding care is huge, considering how many women will face a breast cancer diagnosis — approximately one in eight, according to the American Cancer Society. Early detection is key.
“Luckily, because of all the research, technological advances and increased awareness from the past 40 years, today Stage 1 breast cancer has up to a 98.5 percent survival rate at 10 years after diagnosis. It’s a tribute to all the research and to the women who participated in clinical trials and helped move the needle forward,” Dr. Mendez says. “Add to that the explosion of genetic information that has allowed us to learn more about the biologic subtleties germane to treatment, and the multidisciplinary approach to breast care, and there are lots of options for treatment. And that’s where the conversation begins.”