Making a world of difference for breast cancer patients

October 29, 2021

Finding a suspicious lump or another breast anomaly can be a frightening and stressful experience. The Karen, Heather & Lynn Steinberg Breast Centre at North York General Hospital (NYGH) is designed to make the process of diagnosing and treating breast cancer as easy as possible for patients and to support people throughout their journey.

NYGH’s breast cancer program is well recognized for its patient-centered approach and its high performance, including provincially recognized short wait times for surgery, and holistic and personalized support for patients, families and caregivers.

With access to advanced medical imaging, along with a team of surgeons, radiologists, nurses, pathologists, technologists, geneticists and social workers among others who specialize in breast cancer, and a library that offers patients information in multiple languages, the donor-supported Breast Centre is an important resource for the North York community and patients beyond those who come to us for care. Our comprehensive Breast Cancer Care Program is also the only one in Canada to receive full accreditation from the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, an American College of Surgeons designation that recognizes quality and safety of care provided to patients with diseases of the breast.

We sat down with Dr. Donna McRitchie, a surgical leader with a focus on the breast who is also NYGH’s Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs, to learn more about the Centre and the outstanding programs and services available to people before, during and after a breast cancer diagnosis.

The Breast Centre conducts a very comprehensive consultation process. Can you tell us more about this? 

Our consultation service is unique because it offers so much. For example, pretty much always, except in some unusual circumstances, we are offering breast reconstruction at the time of a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). This is really important for patients because often they won’t have to wait for months, or even for a year or two, to have reconstruction done, and in many cases the reconstruction can be done more simply and with a better cosmetic outcome. 

Patients can go to our combined clinic and see a surgeon, a plastic surgeon, and a radiation oncologist all at the same time if needed. These are people who really need to be together in making a final recommendation about what the patient’s options are, so patients get a full range of service options in one single appointment.

Are there any other programs offered at the Breast Centre that you would like to mention? 

We can connect patients with a genetics counsellor at the clinic. We also have a program for young women with breast cancer that addresses their specific needs including fertility. 

The process for receiving treatment for an illness like breast cancer can be overwhelming. Is there anything that the Centre does to make this process easier for patients?

Yes, some patients’ needs are very complex. For example, they may need all the imaging: mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, and follow-up biopsies. They may also need social work or mental health support. We have a nurse and a navigator associated with the Breast Centre that facilitates education, appointments and follow ups. They help guide the patients through the entire process if need be.

Another unique offering is weekly multidisciplinary cancer care rounds. Can you explain what this is?

The multidisciplinary cancer care rounds take all of the cases we see in the Breast Centre and present them to a team of surgeons, geneticists, nurses, medical and radiation oncologists, and diagnostic imaging specialists. The whole team is there weighing in on the case, offering opinions, and supporting their colleagues and patients. This is incredibly valuable because it links all the specialists and health care professionals involved who care for patients with breast cancer. It makes all of our recommendations more comprehensive and nuanced.

Any final words about what makes North York General’s Breast Centre so special?

We are the only Breast Centre in Canada accredited by the American College of Surgeons, National Accreditation Program for Breast Centres. This really speaks to the dedication, quality, and comprehensive nature of the care that our group provides. The Centre is an incredible resource for the community and for our family doctors and other clinicians who might want to refer their patients. We’re a tight knit, very aligned group of people who feel that this is important work and try to do it at an exemplary standard.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.