TMC One is expanding the scope of services available to you. We are thrilled to welcome Michele Boyce Ley, M.D., a board-certified breast cancer surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. Dr. Boyce Ley brings high-level, compassionate specialty care to our well established and respected program. She is also fluent in Spanish.
Dr. Boyce Ley shares some insight into why she chose this field, what she thinks is the biggest misconception about breast cancer and how a string of profound experiences within her own family impacted how she treats each and every patient.
▪ What is your background?
I was raised in Northern California and have lived in Tucson since 2000. I graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology. I completed medical school at St. Louis University and moved to Tucson for my general surgery residency at the University of Arizona.
I completed a fellowship in breast surgical oncology at the University of California San Francisco, Carol Frank Buck Breast Care Center in 2006 before establishing a breast surgical oncology practice in Tucson. Most recently, I was the director of breast surgery at the University of Arizona and associate professor of surgery.
▪ What inspired you to go into breast surgical oncology?
I was always interested in the biology of cancer. It is so incredibly complex on a cellular and molecular level. Additionally, when you add in the human element – that the disease is happening in a person who has a set of values, beliefs and an individual health status, it adds another layer of complexity. It is very rewarding to take all of these issues into account when helping a patient choose a therapeutic pathway.
▪ How do you help primary care physicians care for their patients with breast cancer?
I like to communicate with referring physicians to inform them of what their patients’ treatment options are. A lot of the information I pass on is educational including information about new evaluation and treatment options as well as updates on recent research.
▪ We hear a lot about breast cancer in the media. What do you think is the biggest misconception about it?
Everyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer, even if it is just pre-cancerous cells, worries that she will die from breast cancer. While there are about 45,000 deaths a year from breast cancer, the majority of patients with breast cancer have a 85-90 percent of a 10-year survival. This means that 10 years after diagnosis, 85-90 percent of these patients are still alive. There are certainly people who do not survive their disease, but these are primarily people in whom the breast cancer was diagnosed late, not properly treated or their particular type of cancer is extremely aggressive.
▪ If a patient has not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but has it in her family history, do you recommend she get established with a specialist like yourself for regular checks/preventative care?
There is great interest in breast health to know your risk. The best way to assess your risk is to meet with a breast specialist to accurately take a history, estimate risk and develop a prevention plan. This plan usually includes regular breast exams, imaging and lifestyle modifications. Sometimes a prevention plan includes risk-reducing surgery or medications.
▪ You’ve lived in Tucson for 15 years. Is there anything in regards to breast health/breast cancer prevention that you’ve found is unique in this part of the country?
One of my goals in returning to practice after my fellowship at UCSF was to raise the level of breast cancer care in Southern Arizona. This has certainly happened as immediate breast reconstruction and nipple-sparing mastectomies have become more commonplace. I hope that we continue to improve our access to routine breast care, breast health education and wellness education.
▪ What interests you outside of work?
I love to cook up healthy meals and I like baking desserts – especially sugar-free ones! I have recently adopted a low-carbohydrate lifestyle that has been both a challenge and a reward. I have two children, Logan, 9, and Lauren, 4, who are bright and energetic. We try to spend time together when we’re not at school and work. My husband takes us camping and as a family, we enjoy adventuring in our time off! It’s good for all of us to be outside and be unplugged. My other pastime is reading. My son and I have challenged each other to read 40 books this year. He’s ahead of me already! We are all looking forward to skiing this winter, as my daughter is ready to take lessons so that we can all hit the slopes together!
▪ What has been your most valuable life experience that has impacted your medical career?
A few years ago, several of my family members were diagnosed with cancer in the same year. My father was diagnosed with leukemia and died after three years of incredibly difficult treatment. My aunt had a recurrence of her breast cancer and eventually passed away from it. Her daughter had a rare form of sarcoma and fortunately is doing well today. All three of my loved ones underwent intensive treatments over a varied amount of time. This was challenging for our family as we had family members who needed support in different parts of the country.
My father and my aunt were relatively young when they died at ages 64 and 62. My family and I felt robbed of the time we should have had with them and were saddened at the suffering they had to endure. Both my father and my aunt accepted hospice care, which was so good for them and our family. My father and my aunt did not want their lives to be defined by their cancer diagnoses. They wanted to live and be involved in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They saw beauty in every day they were given.
These experiences have changed the way I look at my life as well as how I see my patient’s lives. I know that not every treatment is necessary. I know that many treatments may have little benefit and incur risk of long-term effects. I also work to be more understanding of the whole picture of a patient’s life when faced with disease. They have families and pressures outside of their diagnosis that form their response to the illness. From a family perspective, it’s so wonderful to have a physician who “gets” you and sees you as a human – not just as a diagnosis.
▪ How do you approach your relationship with your patients?
Patients are people with an illness, and in the case of breast cancer, these people don’t usually feel ill. I try to put my patients at ease initially to let them know that they will be cured with a little hard work. I often have to deliver news that is disappointing or surprising, so I try to be frank, yet gentle. I really enjoy getting to know my patients and their families. Regardless of our backgrounds, we are all people with feelings and personal challenges and triumphs. I strive to make their experience of the breast cancer process a positive, triumphant part of their life.
Dr. Boyce Ley is accepting new patients!
She is located at 2625 N. Craycroft Rd #201.
Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment.