Ask an Oncology Expert with Dr. Priyanka Mittar
“Cancer treatment is not a one-size-fits-all,” she said. “Everyone’s cancer is different and unique to them.” Breast cancer is a broad term that encompasses many different types and severities of cancer. There are three main variations of breast cancer – hormone positive, triple negative, and HER2 positive – but Dr. Mittar emphasized that the best treatment options depend on the patient. “The last 15 to 20 years have been a very exciting time in oncology, specifically with breast cancer,” she expressed. “Our utilization of chemotherapy has gone down dramatically, and we can focus in on patients who will benefit from it the most.” For many patients, treatments like radiation, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy are more appropriate than relying solely on chemotherapy. Dr. Mittar also mentioned GBMC’s extensive clinical trials program that is bringing new drugs to the forefront of treatment.
For Dr. Mittar, cancer treatment extends beyond the physical body. She believes that emotional and mental health are just as important as the patient’s physical health. The Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute offers a wide range of services to help patients cope with their diagnosis and the day-to-day stress of cancer treatment. The Oncology Support Services team provides free counseling, education, and connections to organizations that help patients and families shoulder their burden. “I tell my patients that the most challenging time is often the beginning,” she said. “Once we formulate a plan and start on that journey together, many patients feel much more comfortable.”
The conversation then shifted to genetic testing. Not every breast cancer patient is a good candidate for genetic testing, but according to Dr. Mittar, the threshold for testing is very low. Understanding the genes of a patient or their cancer can help guide treatment and future prevention measures. The age at diagnosis, type of cancer, and family history play a large role in deciding whether a patient qualifies for testing. “We have a very robust genetics program at GBMC. Our counselors will meet with you and select which testing panel is appropriate,” she explained.
When asked about screening, Dr. Mittar recognized that recommendations can be confusing. She stressed the importance of communicating with your primary care provider to understand the best steps for you and encouraged all women to regularly perform self-breast exams. “No one knows your body better than you do,” she said. “Any abnormality – a new lump, a skin finding, persistent redness, changes in the nipple – should be checked. Have a low bar to meet with your primary care provider.”
The discussion ended with Dr. Mittar answering viewer questions that were submitted beforehand and during the conversation. She covered topics such as the side effects of specific treatments and medications, lifestyle suggestions for cancer prevention, and how COVID-19 has been affecting her patients.