Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among American women, second only to certain types of skin cancer. Although primary care providers do not diagnose breast cancer or treat it, they are involved in several stages, the first being a trusted resource for their patient.
PCPs are often the first line of defense when it comes to detecting breast cancer. Commonly, a PCP may be who a patient goes to first if they feel a lump in their breast and are usually involved in routine screenings. It is important that providers recommend routine mammograms or other breast cancer screenings in order to avoid missing a diagnosis.
However, in many cases the primary care physician’s work is not done after screening. If diagnosed by an Oncologist with breast cancer, many women choose to go to their primary care providers (PCP) seeking more personal support through the process. The role of the PCPs in the breast cancer treatment conversation is a relatively unexpected one for many members of the medical field, as that role generally falls to an oncologist or specialist. However because of a likely longer and more personal relationship with a patient, many PCPs find themselves involved in conversations around treatment.
In a recent study, 1 in 3 primary care providers reported discussing breast cancer treatment options with their patients who are newly-diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Many PCPs report feeling uncomfortable or that they do not have the necessary knowledge to help patients make treatment decisions. It is important for PCPs to remember that although they do serve as an important part of their patient’s support network, they are not responsible for guiding the patient’s cancer treatment choices.
Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP, interim chief medical and scientific officer at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia reminds PCPs that they don’t need to be experts to be an excellent physician for their patients, and frequently a close relationship with a patient can be beneficial. He adds that even just listening and advocating for the patient can play an important role in ensuring a patient feels supported and confident in their treatment plan.
Consider the points made about Informed Consent in the video below.
Overall, a primary care practitioner’s duty in the event of a breast cancer diagnosis is one of support, comfort, and advocacy. In a troubling time, patients often trust the physician that has known them the longest. It’s important to be present for patients while leaning on the expertise of a team of specialists to ensure that your patient receives the best care possible. Whenever questions about risk and patient safety arise, you have OmniSure for advice on-demand in tough situations.