Boston Medical Center’s Breast Cancer Program team is here for you from diagnosis through the end of your treatment. Our comprehensive care is not just built around your breast cancer but is built for you and your life. Our team-based approach provides rapid access, personalized care, streamlined patient visits, and care navigation, all to help make sure your cancer journey is as smooth as possible.

Our multidisciplinary program brings together internal medicine, surgical oncology, radiology/mammography, medical oncology, radiation oncology, pathology, breast cancer nurse navigators and other breast cancer specialists together as one connected team.

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

When you come to BMC for a diagnosis, we’ll do what it takes to make sure you get the best, most accurate diagnosis possible – as quickly as possible. Throughout it all, our team of navigators will help you understand what to expect at each appointment.

At that first appointment, you’ll see our experts for a physical exam and a mammogram, even if you had one before. You might also have an ultrasound of your breast, for a more detailed picture.

If you need a biopsy, our goal is to get it done at that same appointment. If it can’t be done on the same day, we’ll bring you back within two days, so we don’t slow down your diagnosis. If you have a biopsy, you’ll leave with a follow-up appointment to get the results within one week. We know it can be hard to wait for a diagnosis, but getting the diagnosis right is one of the most important steps in your care journey.

If your tests show that you have cancer, you’ll meet with the medical oncologist and breast surgeon at your appointment.

An essential part of the Breast Cancer Program is a weekly multidisciplinary breast cancer conference in which the entire team collaborates on a comprehensive evaluation, and plans the best, most individualized treatment regimen and follow-up care for your breast cancer. There is ongoing communication with your primary care provider—so everyone is kept up to date and informed.

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Treatments & Services

Our multidisciplinary treatment model brings together doctors with different areas of expertise so that they can find the treatment that works best for you. This means you may have one treatment or many treatments. 

Our job is to treat the woman who has breast cancer, not just cancer. The best health outcomes can only happen when treatment fits into your life, rather than the other way around. 

To help make sure you can focus on the important things, we have resources available to help you with non-medical needs, from transportation to housing. BMC can also help facilitate care for anyone without insurance or whose insurance may not cover the care they need. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

Throughout your treatment, we encourage you to keep moving forward with your normal life as much as possible. Our goal is to get you to a cure, and we want you to be ready when you get there. 

The Breast Cancer Program has been the proud recipient of grants from the Susan G. Koman Search for the Cure and the Avon Breast Cancer Foundation to further our efforts in breast cancer prevention, outreach and treatment for the patients of Boston Medical Center, their affiliated Health Centers and the community.


Mastectomy removes the whole breast. There are multiple types of mastectomy. The two most common types of mastectomy are simple (total) mastectomy and modified radical mastectomy. A simple mastectomy removes just the breast. When the lymph nodes underneath the arm (called the axillary lymph nodes) are removed in addition to the breast, it is called a modified radical mastectomy.

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For patients with advanced-stage melanoma, immunotherapy may improve the body’s natural immune response to cancer. Immunotherapy recruits the body’s own immune system and uses it to fight cancer all over the body, making it difficult for cancer cells to hide or develop defenses against it. Immunotherapy has the potential to keep working even after the patient has completed treatment.

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Radiation Therapy

Radiation uses special equipment to deliver high-energy particles, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams or protons, to kill or damage cancer cells. Radiation (also called radiotherapy, irradiation, or x-ray therapy) can be delivered internally through seed implantation or externally using linear accelerators (called external beam radiotherapy, or EBRT).

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Breast-Conserving Surgery

Breast-conserving surgery (BCS) removes only part of the breast. How much of the breast is removed depends on the size of the tumor and where it is located. The medical term for this kind of surgery is a partial (or segmental) mastectomy. It is also called a lumpectomy or quadrantectomy.

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Lymph Node Surgery

Some breast cancer patients may need lymph node surgery. Lymph node surgery is performed for staging purposes to find out whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm (axillary lymph nodes). One or more lymph nodes may be removed for examination under a microscope in one of two ways:  an axillary lymph node dissection or a sentinel lymph node biopsy.

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Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

The use of cancer-killing drugs to treat cancer is called chemotherapy. The drugs can be administered intravenously, injected, or taken by mouth as a pill or a liquid. Once the drugs have entered the bloodstream, they circulate throughout the body, making them useful in killing any cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.

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Reconstructive or Breast Implant Surgery

Reconstructive or breast implant surgery is not meant to cure cancer. It is done to restore the appearance of the breast(s) after surgery. Depending on whether radiation therapy is part of your treatment plan, it is possible for breast reconstruction or implant surgery to be done at the time of mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery. If radiation therapy is part of your treatment plan, your physician may suggest waiting until after that part of your treatment is complete.

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Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

Hormone therapy is used to treat cancers that are hormone receptor-positive (meaning hormone receptors are present in the cells). Breast cancers can be estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive), progesterone receptor-positive (PR-positive), or both.

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Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer

Targeted therapy works differently than chemotherapy. The side effects of targeted therapy drugs are often different and less severe than those of standard chemotherapy drugs.

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External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT) for Breast Cancer

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is usually administered in the radiation oncology department five days a week (Monday through Friday) for five to six weeks, though some newer methods have cut down treatment time to a few weeks or less.

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Three-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy

Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal radiation therapy is based on a CT scan of the region of the body being treated. Radiation oncologists use computer software to determine how the patient will look from any angle and identify the best paths to direct the radiation.

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Our Team

BMC’s comprehensive breast cancer team includes physicians who work in internal medicine, medical oncology, pathology, radiation oncology, radiology/mammography and surgical oncology. Our patient-centered, multidisciplinary approach assures each patient benefits from the collaborative expertise of physicians uniquely focused on their individual needs.

Medical Oncology Team

Naomi Ko, MD

Medical Oncologist

Special Interests

Breast cancer, cancer disparities, health equity

Lauren J Oshry, MD


Special Interests

Breast cancer, gynecological cancer, urologic cancer

Surgery Team

Michael R Cassidy, MD

Surgical Oncologist

Special Interests

Breast cancer, melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma

Andrea L Merrill, MD

Surgical Oncologist

Special Interests

Breast cancer; Endocrine diseases; cancer

Radiation Oncology Team

Kimberley S Mak, MD, MPH

Radiation Oncologist

Special Interests

Thoracic, gastrointestinal, breast, and musculoskeletal malignancies, Cyberknife® radiosurgery, radiotherapy

Radiology Team

Nurse Navigator

Joyce Mong

Patient Navigators

Liv Haugen

Sheila Santiago

Patient Resources

What is Breast Cancer?

Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the U.S. (American Cancer Society 2015b).

The normal breast is composed of 15 to 20 sections called lobes. Each lobe is made up of smaller sections called lobules. Lobules contain small groups of glands that produce breast milk. Thin tubes, called ducts, carry the milk from the lobules to the nipple. The breast also contains blood vessels and lymph vessels. Lymph vessels are similar to blood vessels, but instead of circulating blood throughout the body, they circulate a clear fluid called lymph. The lobes, lobules, ducts, blood vessels, and lymph vessels are surrounded by fatty and connective tissue called stroma.

Meet Maria, who fought breast cancer and is now becoming a doctor.

Cancer cells in the breast form a malignant (cancerous) tumor that appears as a lump. However, not all breast lumps are cancerous. In fact, most breast lumps are benign (noncancerous). Benign breast lumps are abnormal growths that do not spread outside the breast and are generally not life threatening. They can be caused by fibrocystic changes, a combination of cysts (fluid-filled sacs) and fibrosis (the formation of scar-like tissue) in the breast. Benign lumps can be painful and may cause swelling, particularly when a woman is just about to start her menstrual cycle. These changes can also make the breast feel lumpy and cause a clear or slightly cloudy discharge from the nipple.

Most breast cancers are carcinomas, or cancers that begin in the lining of organs. There are several types of breast cancer. "In situ" means the cancer is confined to the tissue where it began. "Invasive" refers to cancer that has spread from the layer of tissue where it began into surrounding healthy tissue.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast. Cancerous lumps tend to be painless and hard and have uneven edges, though this isn’t always the case. It is best to have any new changes in the breast looked at by a physician.

Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling in the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • The nipple inverting (turning inward on itself)
  • Scaliness, redness, or thickening of the breast or nipple
  • Nipple discharge that isn’t breast milk

With invasive cancers, it is possible for the cancer to spread to nearby lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone. A tumor may form there before the breast tumor is large enough to be felt.

Causes of Breast Cancer

Although the exact causes of breast cancer remain unknown, certain risk factors—things that increase an individual's chances of developing a cancer—have been identified. While risk factors may be useful in identifying high-risk individuals, they do not determine whether a person develops a disease. Some risk factors, such diet, are within an person’s control, while others, such as age, are not.

Some risk factors breast cancer include:

  • Gender: Women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men (one percent of men get breast cancer) (American Cancer Society 2015a).
  • Age: As women get older, they are more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Genetic mutations: Certain genetic mutations (changes in the DNA sequence of a gene), such as mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Family history: Women with close blood relatives who have or have had breast cancer are at increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Personal history: Women who have or have had breast cancer in one breast have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in the other breast or another part of the same breast. This is not the same as having a recurrence. A recurrence is when the same cancer returns
  • Race: Overall, Caucasian women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women.
  • Dense breast tissue: Women, particularly younger women, with dense breast tissue have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Certain benign breast problems: Having certain benign breast changes may increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): When a woman is diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ, it means cells that look like cancer cells are in the lobules but cannot break through the walls of the duct or spread to other tissues or organs. LCIS can increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer later.
  • Menstrual periods: Women who started menstruating early (before age 12) or underwent menopause late (after age 55) have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Breast radiation early in life
  • Treatment with DES: Women who were treated with the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) while pregnant have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Not having children or having children later: There is a slight increase in risk for women who do not have children or begin having them after age 30 (American Cancer Society 2015b).
  • Certain forms of birth control: Breast cancer risk is slightly higher for women actively using birth control pills or depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera®), an injectable form of birth control.
  • Breastfeeding versus not breastfeeding: Some studies have linked breastfeeding with a slight reduction in breast cancer risk for women, particularly if the woman breastfeeds for 1 ½ to 2 years (American Cancer Society 2015b).
  • Hormone therapy after menopause: Treatment with estrogen and progesterone together (sometimes referred to as combined hormone therapy) after menopause increases a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. Taking estrogen by itself does not seem to increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer, though it can increase her chances of developing other types of cancer.
  • Alcohol consumption: The more alcohol a woman consumes on a daily basis, the higher her chances of developing the disease.
  • Being overweight or obese

Patients with a strong family history of breast cancer may be eligible for genetic counseling. For more information, patients can visit Genetic Counseling or talk to their physician to request a referral.

Are You At Risk For Developing Breast Cancer?


American Cancer Society. 2015a. Detailed Guide: Breast Cancer. PDF.

Overview Guide: Breast Cancer Overview. PDF.

National Cancer Institute. 2012. What You Need To Know About™ Breast Cancer. PDF. Bethesda: National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human


Breast Cancer Treatment

Most women with breast cancer will have some type of breast surgery as part of their treatment plan.

Patient Stories

Research Overview

BMC offers a number of clinical trials specifically for breast cancer patients. Promising new techniques in the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cancer are tested in these studies. The number and types of clinical trials available are constantly changing.

Learn more about our ongoing breast cancer research and trials. Those interested in participating in any clinical trials at BMC should talk with their physician.

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