Breastlink Medical Director of Oncology John Link, M.D., recently received a letter from a student asking about oncology and breast cancer. Unfortunately, this junior high school student had recently lost a relative to breast cancer. This experience inspired her to make breast cancer the topic of a yearlong, school research project. Dr. Link was pleased to answer some of her questions. Read his response below.
I am happy to answer your breast cancer questions to help with your research project. It sounds like a good project to work on. It made me sad to hear about your loved one having died of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Questions
- What is the most common treatment that your patients choose?
This question is not an easy one to answer and it will require some explaining. Breast cancer is quite different in different women and requires a variety of different therapies. One of my most important roles is to educate women about their breast cancer. Then, we look together at treatment options and choose a treatment plan that offers them the best chance for a cure, which means that they live the rest of their lives without breast cancer. Breast cancer treatment can be either local, as far as surgery and radiation is concerned, or systemic, if there is a significant risk that cancer cells have escaped into the bloodstream.
- When did you decide you wanted to become a medical oncologist?
I decided to become a medical oncologist when I was an undergraduate student at University of Southern California. I was on the track team on a scholarship and my coach developed cancer. He died and, at that point in my life, I decided that I would like to dedicate my career to medicine and cancer research.
- Who helped you the most to become the doctor you are today?
This is another difficult question. I honestly think that the ones who have helped me most are my patients. They have kept me coming back to the office, striving to provide better care and better outcomes, and they have been my best teachers.
- How long do you plan to work in the medical field?
I have been in practice for 40 years now and I am 68 years old. I hope to work another 10 years, although I may change the aspect of my practice to do more research.
- What treatments do you recommend for your patients?
Again, this depends on the individual woman’s the type and stage of her cancer. It is almost always some combination of surgery, radiation and systemic therapy, which can be administered through the veins or in pill form. There are four different types of breast cancers, as I discuss in my book. Treatment recommendations really depend on what type of breast cancer it is. You will receive a copy of the book.
- How do you prepare your patients for treatment?
We prepare our patients for treatment with education. We want them to feel comfortable and understand what we are doing, the purpose of the treatment and what our goals are. We think patient education is extremely important.
- How often do you see a patient?
This depends on where they are in their treatment. If they have just recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, then we see them fairly frequently to get treatment launched. I usually see them at each treatment session if they are receiving any kind of chemotherapy. Once they have gone through the acute phase of their treatment and begin a maintenance program, I usually see them every three months or so for about five years. At that point, they can continue care with their primary care doctor.