Battling breast cancer closer to home

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A multidisciplinary team of health-care providers at The Scarborough Hospital (TSH) is providing local breast cancer patients with the tools right in their neighbourhood to help fight – and win – the battle against the disease.

“Patients diagnosed with breast cancer require expedient care delivered with empathy and compassion,” says Dr. Nadine Norman, Interim Chief of General Surgery at TSH. “Our team at The Scarborough Hospital works closely together to make sure our patients receive state-of-the-art testing and treatment options.”

“We are proud to be able to deliver this quality and timely care of our patients close to their home. We provide easy accessibility of physicians for any of our patients who require extra time and information for decision-making, or any problems they encounter at any time during or after their treatment.”

TSH is also the Scarborough site of the Ontario Breast Screening Program, which offers mammography screening for women aged 50 and older, with or without a physician’s referral.

It all starts in TSH’s Diagnostic Imaging department, which annually performs about 6,000 screening mammography cases and more than 6,300 diagnostic mammography cases. “Our Diagnostic Imaging department provides a comprehensive range of diagnostic services to the women of our community,” says Tom Jackson, Patient Care Manager for DI.  “Our specially trained technologists and radiologists provide expert care to our patients. When more extensive follow-up investigation is needed, a full range of diagnostic services are available, including ultrasound, MRI, biopsy and surgical consultation.”

For Scarborough resident Juanita Nelson, a breast cancer survivor and a nurse, TSH provided the timely treatment she needed. Diagnosed in 2007, she was referred to Dr. Norman at TSH for a mastectomy. That was followed up with chemotherapy at TSH’s oncology clinic. And Juanita later opted for breast reconstruction.

“After breast cancer surgery, it was very hard to look at myself in the mirror with only one breast. It really felt off-balance,” she says, adding that while the breast reconstruction method she chose (tissue transfer) was a lengthier process than a breast implant, “I am very happy with the procedure. I feel better, more natural and back to my old self.”

TSH Plastic Surgeon Dr. Sarah Wong describes Ms. Nelson as “a very brave patient who survived her cancer treatments with courage. She is a person who went through the same emotions and struggles that all cancer patients face,” Dr. Wong adds. “I hope others will see her as an inspiration that there is life after cancer which can be happy and fulfilling.”

There are three types of breast reconstruction available at TSH: implants; transferring your own body tissue to rebuild the breast; or a combination of both. The tissue transfer results in a longer surgery and hospital stay, but there is no risk of rejection and the breast looks more natural.

“About 80 per cent of my patients have some type of reconstruction done after breast cancer surgery,” Dr. Wong explains. “There is more awareness of breast reconstruction as an option that’s paid by OHIP, but also, there are more breast cancer survivors these days.”

With TSH boasting the largest number of plastic surgeons in Canada, it also offers a culturally diverse environment for patients. “We are fluent in seven different languages, including Hindi, Arabic and Cantonese,” Dr. Wong says. “Women can access excellent cancer care at TSH while staying close to home with the support of their family and friends nearby.”