The best care for breast cancer? In an accredited breast clinic!
Breast cancer is a complex disease that requires specialised care. That care is guaranteed in an accredited breast clinic. A number of legally defined conditions guarantee that your treatment meets strict quality requirements, in order to give you the best possible chances. Unfortunately, it is not always clear to survivors where they can find recognised breast clinics. That is why Think Pink has - literally - mapped them out for you.
A breast clinic is a specialised department or care programme in the hospital dedicated to breast disorders. In order to be recognised by the government, the department must meet a number of quality standards. Indeed, international research proves that a specialised breast clinic improves your chances of healing and survival, while at the same time ensuring a better quality of life.
Multidisciplinary collaboration, weekly consultations, team members with sufficient experience and availability, a minimum number of patients per year and rapid consultation: these are the criteria that a hospital must meet in order to become an accredited breast clinic. These requirements were laid down in the Royal Decree of the 26th of April 2007.
A multidisciplinary team manages everything. Thanks to cooperation across the borders of professions, they have an eye for you as a complete human being from day one.
• The gynaecologist is the doctor you went to having experienced a symptom or having received a disturbing test result. A gynaecologist specialising in breast cancer can either perform the operation or prescribe additional treatment.
• The radiologist is responsible for the imaging.
• The breast care nurse will support you during the mammography.
• The pathologist examines whether the removed tissue is benign or malignant.
• The surgeon removes the tumour.
• The oncologist is responsible for your anti-hormone therapy or chemotherapy.
• The radiotherapist is responsible for the radiotherapy.
• The radiation nurse will accompany you during the radiation sessions.
• The plastic surgeon will take care of any breast reconstruction.
• A clinical geneticist will check whether your breast cancer is genetic or familial. A genetic counsellor supports you in this process.
• The breast care nurse is your guide and anchor during and after your treatment.
• The physiotherapist will take care of your rehabilitation and may help with complications such as lymphoedema.
• The psychologist is there for your worries, fears and insecurity. For questions about the effect on your body image, your relationship and sexuality, you can contact a sexologist.
• A social nurse will help you find your way in possible help during and after your treatment.
• An oncology dietitian will help you with questions about nutrition during and after your treatment.
• Nurses on this ward are experts at care during a certain treatment.
There are weekly multidisciplinary oncology consultations or MOCs. A surgeon, an oncologist, a gynaecologist, a radiotherapist, a pathologist, a radiologist, a breast care nurse and an oncopsychologist must be present during this multidisciplinary team meeting. Other care providers such as a plastic surgeon or your GP can also attend the MOC. They will combine their professional knowledge to set up your treatment plan.
The breast care nurse
The breast care nurse is the beating heart of the breast clinic. They are your anchor and support and guide you through the treatment. You can always contact them for more information and clarification, or if you need someone to pour your heart out to. They can sometimes attend appointments with the doctors to assist and clarify. Do not hesitate to contact them if you feel the need.
In some hospitals breast care nurses are being referred to as BCNs.
Enough experience guarantees a broader basis and more knowledge. That's why a coordinating breast clinic should diagnose and treat at least 125 new breast cancers per year. For a satellite breast clinic - a smaller breast clinic that is linked to a coordinating breast clinic – that number is 60.
In addition, the Royal Decree also carefully determines how much experience all team members should have and how much training they should follow. Because they deal with breast disorders every day, they are constantly improving their knowledge so as to be able to treat and guide you in the best possible way.
Furthermore, the Royal Decree clearly states the amount of time the medical team must be available to the breast clinic. For example, most breast clinics avoid having surgeons who are inhouse only one day a week because this means you might need to wait for days to see them in case of a complication. The team also guarantees that you can make an appointment within five working days. Further examinations and diagnosis should follow within the week.
Not only the employees, but also the infrastructure, equipment and laboratories have to meet certain quality requirements if a hospital is to be accredited as a breast clinic. These are also described in the Royal Decree.
Reporting and feedback
Finally, each breast clinic reports all breast cancer diagnoses and the type of breast cancer to the Cancer Registry Foundation. This government agency collects numbers for the entire country and looks at a number of quality indicators. In this way, they set up feedback reports for breast clinics. This allows hospitals to assess their treatments and further improve them.
Where can you find authorised breast clinics?
But how do you know which hospitals have approved breast clinics? As a survivor, it is hard to know for sure because some hospitals wrongfully call themselves breast clinics. That is why Think Pink has created this map for you. On this map, you will find all recognised breast clinics. Do you see or feel a change in your breast? Then be sure to contact a breast clinic in your area.
A number of Flemish hospitals are now saying on their website that they are breast clinics, although they are not. That is why we ask AZ Oudenaarde, AZ West Veurne and AZ Glorieux Ronse to change their communication for the sake of clarity.
Discover all recognised breast clinics in Belgium here.
Good to know:
- Star icon = coordinating breast clinic
- House icon = satellite breast clinic