Dr. Rebecca C. Yang, MD, and her colleagues have developed an approach to cancer care that reaches far beyond traditional treatment to secure a healthy future.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer, and there is only one way in which that is a good thing: There’s a lot that is known about it. Fellowship-trained surgeon Dr. Rebecca C. Yang, MD, is well versed in the field and has served for 10 years as medical director of the Lahey Comprehensive Breast Health Center. “I always wanted to do something in women’s health,” says Dr. Yang. “I really fell in love with this particular area of surgery. I love the long-term relationship I develop with women. It doesn’t end [after] surgery.”
Providing diagnostic cancer care and treatment in Burlington, Peabody, and Derry, NH, the Lahey center offers a risk assessment program designed for women who do not have breast cancer, but have a strong family history and want to determine their risk level. It is also a resource for those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and want to know if it is the result of a genetic mutation; knowing this helps determine the best treatment option. In both cases, a certified genetic counselor meets with them to review a very detailed family history.
Actress and activist Angelina Jolie’s recent decision to undergo a preventive mastectomy highlighted the role BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations play in determining the risk for breast and ovarian cancer. “There are certain red flags,” says Dr. Yang, “specifically, any woman who has a breast cancer diagnosis before age 50, even if there is no other family history.” If a woman has a mutation, she is at a much higher risk of the cancer coming back after a lumpectomy and for having cancer in her other breast. She is pleased with Jolie’s decision and public announcement. “Having someone like her say, ‘Breasts are just part of me, not me,’ makes it more comfortable to talk about,” she says.
When a woman is ready for treatment, she meets Lahey’s multidisciplinary team. “We are the beginning…the opening salvo, so to speak,” says Dr. Yang. “We guide women through the whole process.” The first visit starts with a breast surgeon with whom she discusses the results of her biopsy, type of cancer, options for surgery, need for risk assessment, and treatment plan. From there, she goes to a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. Then, a social worker is brought in, because, as Dr. Yang explains, “It’s not just about the woman and the cancer; it’s about her needs, her family, her life stressors.” There is also a plastic surgeon on the team, a nurse practitioner, and a representative from the American Cancer Society. “We definitely think knowledge is power,” says Dr. Yang.
Treating the cancer is, of course, the primary goal. But it’s also about self-image. “My particular interest is in maximizing cosmetic results while giving [women] the best surgical outcome,” says Dr. Yang. “I’m also very interested in working with women [experiencing] lifestyle modifications.” Because obesity is a risk factor for recurrence, she emphasizes weight control. She also discusses the implications of hearing about other people’s experiences with breast cancer, which can be overwhelming and scary. “Remember,” she tells them, “each woman’s cancer is individual. [What they are sharing] may have nothing to do with what you have.”
For women going through the process of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the Lahey team is a blessing. It can make all the difference in the world to hear Dr. Yang say, “In this day and age…there’s so much hope [for] women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, it is not a death sentence.” lahey.org
Breast Health Center Beverly Hospital at Danvers beverlyhospital.org
National Cancer Institute cancer.gov
American Cancer Society cancer.org
Breast Cancer Information and Awareness breastcancer.org
YMCA Pink Program lahey.org
Save the Date
Members of the Lahey Breast Health Center staff partner with the Northshore Mall for “Shop, Stop, & Learn,” an event held annually in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. October 5 at 10 a.m., Northshore Mall, Peabody.