Treated Well

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In an area of breast cancer where treatment is recently changing, Dr. Sadia Khan’s patients enjoy the results of a more considered approach

When Donna Ellen Foley was diagnosed with breast cancer, her physician broke the news to her this way: “I want you to see my face. I’m smiling. You’re going to be fine.”

That smile was partly due to the stage at which the cancer was caught. Thanks to Hoag’s Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (3D Mammography), Donna’s ductal carcinoma in-situ breast cancer (DCIS) was discovered very early. The other reason the doctor was smiling was that her primary physician was referring Donna to an expert specialist: Sadia Khan, D.O., Program Advisor for Breast Surgical Services at Hoag Breast Center and Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery Keck School of Medicine, USC.

“I came across a presentation Dr. Khan had done in Dallas right before my diagnosis,” said Donna, 54. “That was instrumental in my wanting to be one of her patients.”

The presentation, at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons, detailed Dr. Khan’s findings that more than half of all women with pre-cancerous DCIS whose tumors are inadequately removed are at risk of developing a recurrence of the disease or invasive breast cancer within 10 years.

“This will be life-changing for many women,” said Donna, who noted that a different physician at a different hospital likely would not have taken as aggressive and innovative an approach to Donna’s tumor. But that is why Donna drives the 130 miles from Valencia to Newport Beach to be treated at Hoag.

“If I had gone to one of the doctors in my neck of the woods, I would have had the standard treatment,” she said.

Instead, Donna was offered intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) and oncoplastic surgery, a two-hour procedure that completely removed the cancer, gave the tumor site a targeted dose of radiation that should protect her from needing further radiation and reconstructed her breasts so that they look – as she tells it – better than before.

“They take before and after pictures of the surgery and I was so happy with the way it turned out, I wanted to walk around and show everyone the pictures,” she laughed. “Dr. Khan’s scheduling coordinator said, ‘Here, we’d better find you an envelope for those.’”

Donna said that the ability to come out of the hospital whole and healthy is an option too few women have.

“To be able to have my lumpectomy, radiation and reconstruction all at one time, and not leave the hospital disfigured or disappointment is incredible,” she said. “The fact that I don’t have to go for six weeks of radiation, and then if I’m up for it, reconstruction, is the best part of it. I came out of the hospital, and I was done in one procedure.”

Donna said she is also grateful that Dr. Khan does not take the wait-and-see-approach in DCIS cases. When the medical team removed the tumor, they found it was larger than they expected, 1.2 centimeters. They managed to get the whole tumor, and within two days, Donna was recovering so well, she no longer needed pain medication.

“Dr. Khan was awesome because she sat with me for an hour and used a white board to detail all of my options,” said the retired IT consultant. “She didn’t just say, ‘You need to do this.’ She left the decision to me, but she gave me all the data so that I could make the best decision.”

When Donna talks about her experience at Hoag, she gushes.

“It’s a very comforting place. Even when the radiologists were doing prep for my lumpectomy, one of the technicians put her hand on my shoulder. It was a small thing, but they really relate to you and understand that they might do this 100 times a day, but this is your first time, and it’s scary,” Donna said. “I’m just so grateful to Dr. Khan and the whole team for making it a positive experience. It’s like they wrap a big blanket around you and make you feel like it’s going to be OK.”