Jun 24, 2019 Facing Breast Cancer Together

A team of specialists surrounds and supports breast cancer patients.

When someone gets a diagnosis of breast cancer, the future appears uncertain. Questions abound: What’s my first step? Who will provide my care? Will I be OK? Breast cancer specialists at The Cancer Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) and the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center (ACC) are dedicated to making sure no one faces those questions alone. The extensive group of experts works as one unit to provide innovative and individualized care at diagnosis, during treatment and afterward.

“Newly diagnosed patients are often frightened and don’t know where to turn,” says Michele Blackwood, MD, Medical Director and Northern Regional Director of Breast Services for RWJBarnabas Health, Chief, Section of Breast Surgery at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and a member of Barnabas Health Medical Group. “Once we’ve assembled their team and a plan of action is in place, everyone calms down. Families feel optimistic knowing their loved one is in good hands.”


As soon as a patient is diagnosed at The Breast Center at the ACC, physicians proactively reach out to experts at The Cancer Center. A multidisciplinary lineup of specialists (see chart, opposite page), is then assembled.

“Not all breast cancer is the same,” explains Anya Litvak, MD, a breast medical oncologist with The Cancer Center. “It’s a complex disease that requires a large group of specialized doctors throughout the process—from abnormal mammography to diagnosis to treatment, whether that means surgery, chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, radiation therapy or a clinical trial.”

Each week, physicians gather at meetings to discuss patients. “We talk about upcoming operations and difficult diagnoses,” says Dr. Blackwood. “All of these wonderful doctors focus their intellect toward one patient. We put our heads together and come up with the best treatment plan.”

Every aspect of that plan is customized. “We individualize each patient’s treatment,” says Alison Grann, MD, Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology. “For a patient facing breast cancer, we have a variety of options for radiation treatment, depending on his or her needs.”

At every step of the journey, patient navigators guide and support patients, coordinating appointments and making sure patients know where to go and in what order they should see various specialists. Appointments are scheduled promptly, with multiple visits arranged for the same day. “We do our best to make patient care seamless and hassle-free,” says Dr. Blackwood.

As soon as patients and families arrive for appointments at the ACC, they’re welcomed by extended team members. Valets offer complimentary parking and a concierge helps them navigate the building. Experienced staff and administrators get to know the patients over time as treatment progresses.


The Cancer Center’s comprehensive array of cancer-fighting tools includes the newest technologies and treatments. Surgery patients benefit from recent advances in surgical and reconstructive procedures, with new approaches including:

• Mastopexy breast lift during lumpectomy

• Nipple-sparing mastectomy

• DIEP flap reconstruction surgery, in which a new breast is formed from transplanted abdominal tissue

• Pre-pectoral reconstruction, in which implants are placed directly over the muscle, resulting in less post-mastectomy pain and a more natural appearance

At The Infusion Center at SBMC, the latest FDA-approved chemotherapy protocols are administered. In addition, Dr. Litvak says, medical oncologists screen patients to see if a clinical trial (an FDA-approved research study in which patients are given cutting-edge treatments) might be an appropriate option for them.

“Our very strong multidisciplinary team, along with our partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, means we have the clinical expertise, technology, access to clinical trials and breadth of experience to deliver world-class care for breast cancer and other cancers,” says Michael Scoppetuolo, Jr., MD, Medical Director of The Cancer Center. “With very specialized, targeted therapies, we can meet all patient treatment needs, and do it close to where they live.”

To learn more about cancer care at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, visit our website.