Are you more than five years out from the completion of your surgery, chemo, and radiation for an early stage 0, 1, or 2 breast cancer, and you’re still seeing members of your oncology team? Then it’s probably time to start asking yourself why.
By occupying that exam room, you might be keeping a newly diagnosed woman from getting seen. No kidding.
Why do I bother to bring this up? Because the number of women in the U.S. who are diagnosed with breast cancer continues to grow steadily—250,000 this year alone. And this total doesn’t even count the cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), sometimes known as “stage zero” breast cancer because it in fact involves some abnormal cells proliferating in a breast duct. If we count these DCISs, the total balloons to 300 million women per year!
Another factor to consider
More and more women are surviving this disease—that’s the good news. But at the same time, the number of oncology specialists is shrinking and this shortage isn’t likely to change. Why is this? A simple lack of reimbursement is driving some oncologists away from private practices and is directly contributing to new doctors no longer choosing oncology as their specialty of choice.
And what does all this mean? That by 2020, the number of oncology specialists in the United States will have shrunk to 48 percent. And ladies, no one can put 10 pounds of salt into a 5-pound bag.
Thus, we all need to support our sisters who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer by transitioning ourselves away from our oncology teams and back into the offices of our primary care physicians (PCPs) and gynecologists. In this way, we make room for the multitudes of women who have just heard those horrific words, “You have breast cancer.”
Will you miss seeing your oncology team? Sure, and they will miss seeing us, too. But frankly, by continuing to see them, we are implying to them and to ourselves that we expect our cancer to come back, when we actually don’t (or shouldn’t) believe that. The oncology team taking care of you has an important, if seldom stated, goal—that you never need to see them again. Help them achieve that goal.