Second opinions, survival rates and treatment options: TMC One’s breast oncology surgeon weighs in on cancer diagnoses

Throughout the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we tapped into the expertise of Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, TMC One’s new board-certified breast oncology surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. We’ve shared information with you including how to assess your breast cancer risk, asked her to weigh in on myths about breast screening including mammography and self-breast exams and had her tell us what to do – and consider – if you find a lump in your breast.

To round out this blog series, we asked her opinion on a story that was recently released by the Susan G. Komen organization titled: Debunking Five Common Myths About Breast Cancer Treatment.

We decided to focus on the three Dr. Boyce Ley thought would be the most meaningful.

Myth #1: I don’t have time to get a second opinion because I must begin treatment as soon as possible.

BDP36480First – that second opinion issue. “Second opinions are important for a couple of reasons,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “Maybe the physician you initially went to isn’t a breast specialist. Or maybe they’re just not a good fit for you. Women need to know that it’s OK to find another doctor! Don’t worry about offending your current doctor or the person who referred you to them. It’s your health. People need to feel empowered to get multiple opinions.” Dr. Boyce Ley added that second opinions are also great because perhaps the first time around, you didn’t quite understand all of the information. Or maybe one physician has a treatment option that another doctor didn’t offer you.

Second – how soon after diagnosis should treatment start? The National Breast and Cervical Center Early Detection Program guidelines recommend starting treatment within 60 days of being diagnosed. Dr. Boyce Ley said that timeframe is readily accepted by most people – that two months is the maximum amount of time a patient should wait before starting therapy. She added that most patients in Southern Arizona begin therapy within a month of being diagnosed. “I think this is really hard for patients,” she said. “They feel like it’s an emergency, but realistically, it takes years for the cancer to grow. A couple of weeks in the life of breast cancer doesn’t change the outcome. Even a patient with an aggressive cancer will usually start therapy within a week or two.”

Myth #2: Everyone diagnosed with breast cancer dies from breast cancer or everyone diagnosed with breast cancer survives.

Dr. Boyce Ley stressed that breast cancer is not a death sentence. With modern treatment, an estimated 90 percent of women with early-stage breast cancer will go on to live five or more years after diagnosis without it recurring. Of course survival rates vary based on what stage the cancer is in and what kind of behavior the breast cancer has. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about three million breast cancer survivors in the United States. However, more than 40,000 women and more than 400 men still die from breast cancer every year. The reality is that while most people will survive breast cancer, unfortunately some patients will not.

Myth #3: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are more harmful than helpful.

Decades of breast cancer research have proven that chemotherapy and radiation therapy saves lives. “We know that these are two things that contribute to better survival,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “Historically, doctors have gone from giving no chemotherapy to giving too much chemotherapy and now we’re working hard to give patients just the right amount.”

She added that doctors these days have lots of ways to analyze a patient’s cancer to identify more clearly what treatment would benefit the patient. This allows a treatment plan to be tailored to that specific patient. “We have ways to identify which patients are going to benefit from which targeted therapies,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “The same can be said for targeted radiation. We have the ability to target one part of the breast where the cancer is and avoid radiation damage to the heart and lungs. Those are things we didn’t have available to us 15 years ago.”

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.

To schedule a mammogram, call (520) 324-2075. For more information about our free mammogram program for uninsured women, call the TMC for Women Breast Center at
(520) 324-1286 to review qualifications and schedule an appointment.

You’ve found a lump in your breast. Now what?

Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, TMC One’s new board-certified breast oncology surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program, has shared her expertise with us over the past few weeks about how to assess your breast cancer risk. She also helped us clarify some myths about breast screening including mammography, while stressing the importance of being aware of changes in your body. Having a good gauge on what your breasts normally feel like will help you know when something isn’t quite right.

So – what if you find something?

Dr. Boyce Ley said your best bet is to start with your primary care physician. Don’t have one? Chances are you’ll find one you totally connect with at TMC One. Your physician will typically order breast imaging. A mammogram and ultrasound can solve many questions without escalating it to a breast specialist.

BDP36503When should your first call be to a breast specialist? If you notice changes with your nipple or if your breast has suddenly changed color, size, shape or texture. Dr. Boyce Ley said she often sees women who, upon finding an abnormal mass in their breast, instantly jump to a worst case scenario – “who will take care of my kids when I die?” She advises women in this situation to keep this in mind: “Most of the time, it’s not going to be cancer,” said Dr. Boyce Ley, “but that still means you should pursue it. Even if you have an abnormal screening mammogram, the chance of finding a cancer is very small. A majority of the time, we may need to do further testing but oftentimes it turns out to be something benign like a cyst or overlapping breast tissue. Those are the two most common things we find.”

The take away message: Statistically, it’s unlikely that the mass you feel is going to be cancer.
If it is cancer, it
’s likely small and easily treatable.

If the initial imaging shows the mass is benign, but your physician recommends a biopsy, Dr. Boyce Ley said it’s not a bad idea to get a second opinion before getting a biopsy. Sometimes the recommendation to biopsy may differ from physician to physician and some things can be followed with imaging and exams. You may feel an urgency to get an answer but taking your time to make a good choice is important. However, Dr. Boyce Ley cautioned that if a biopsy is recommended for you, follow through with it because it could save your life.

“So many women come in with ideas that they’ve gotten from their friends and neighbors instead of medical professionals. They’ve already decided that they’re dying or that they need a double mastectomy. As a breast surgeon, it can be very hard to unwind that thinking. Is it important to get into someone quickly? Yes. But breast cancer is not an emergency. A difference of one or two days – even a week – is not going to make a difference with your treatment. In the age of quick information that we live in, while it’s possible to find information easily, it’s not necessarily helpful.”  Dr. Boyce Ley gave this advice: “Get the facts. Figure out your options. And then come up with a game plan that’s best for YOU.”

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.

To schedule a mammogram, call (520) 324-2075. For more information about our free mammogram program for uninsured women, call the TMC for Women Breast Center at
(520) 324-1286 to review qualifications and schedule an appointment.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461