Our Approach

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. A great deal of progress in the detection and treatment of breast cancer has been made in recent years, and our breast cancer physicians are on the leading edge of finding even better solutions. We offer:

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. Our radiologists are recognized as leaders in their field.

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. Our surgeons perform breast surgery exclusively, and are nationally known as being leaders in the field. Yale surgeons were among the first to perform a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy and were instrumental in the development of such non-invasive procedures as 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, our approach is customized to best fit your goals and lifestyle.

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 unravelling 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 our patients 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 discuss all new cases every week 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. 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. Our radiation oncologists 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.

Since prior to 2011, Yale has been offering a new way treating breast cancer to its patients: hypofractionated breast radiation. This treatment involves three to four weeks of radiation rather than the traditional five to six weeks. This treatment has been proven to be just as effective- with fewer side effects- than the standard six weeks of radiation. It has been proven to be highly effective for women after lumpectomy, when lymph node areas do not need to be targeted. We offer this treatment to women who have undergone chemotherapy, as well.

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 Medicine is fortunate to have one of the finest pathology departments in the country, complete with a high-level tumor profiling service. 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 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 cancer (less than 50 years old), 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. Our physicians 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, we offer a myriad of essential services including social work, pastoral support, dietary and nutritional aid, physical therapy, complementary therapy, pain management, and psychosocial support. We also offer a state-of-the-art Survivorship Program that employs a multidisciplinary team approach designed to optimally address your 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 such as healthy eating, physical activity, and mindfulness.