Since 1982, the Bassett Healthcare Network Cancer Center in Cooperstown and Cancer Institute at FoxCare in Oneonta, has drawn from a “United Spirit” in providing care and support to Central New York breast cancer patients and their families.
The Bassett Centers boast “comprehensive cancer care” and promise that “breast cancer is very treatable when caught early on.” Based on pre-covid engagement, their team is treating as many as 170 to 180 patients at some stage in their journey with breast cancer care on any given day. Types of treatment will depend on the stage and type of the disease. The “breast cancer team” convened to collaborate on the case of a given patient may include a breast surgeon, a surgical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a medial oncologist and a plastic surgeon … all working together toward the Bassett Center’s goals of “getting rid of the known cancer and preventing recurrences anywhere else in the body.”
Breast cancer patients at Bassett could also work with the Cancer Center’s social work, nurse navigators and internal insurance advisors to ensure that they benefit from all available resources to support them in their treatment and post-treatment journeys.
The Bassett Cancer Center in Cooperstown, as well as the Cancer Institute in Oneonta, both provide breast cancer exams and consultations, mammographies and other diagnostic services, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. But, while the Bassett physicians teaming to treat breast cancer patients are affiliated with A.O. Fox Hospital in Oneonta, where treatment plans require surgeries, patients would most likely receive that level of care at the Cooperstown center.
Dr. Ayana Allard-Picou, a surgical oncologist who collaborates with the Bassett team on the treatment plan for breast cancer patients, emphasized that Bassett’s multi-disciplinary approach to treatment is unique to many other cancer centers. She noted that she is among several surgical oncologists on the Bassett team, where that designation requires two years of additional specialized surgery training (the designation of breast cancer surgeon requires one additional year).
Allard-Picou referred to “tumor board conferences” as part of the early stages of treatment plans, where upwards of 20 to 30 physicians and technicians from any specialty that would be involved in any and all stages of the treatment of a breast cancer case would convene to analyze the results of diagnostic testing and consult and collaborate to design a custom treatment plan that the team deems best suited to that individual patient.
“I tell my patients it is sort of like getting a 2nd and 3rd and 4th opinion without having to travel to that many different doctors,” said Allard-Picou.
She believes that many patients from the Central New York region, when diagnosed with breast cancer, initially believe that they will then have to seek treatment from cancer centers in larger cities, such as New York City, Syracuse or Buffalo.
“We have a dedicated cancer center right here at Bassett,” said Allard-Picou, “and we are glad to let patients know that they do not have travel to receive their care.”
Allard-Picou hoped to highlight the evolution of genetic testing as a now routine step in a breast cancer treatment plan and shared that the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBS) now recommend that genetic testing is considered for all breast cancer patients.
“When I came to Bassett, I worked to increase the amount of genetic testing we do,” said Allard-Picou. “Now, we offer it to every patient.”
Allard-Picou referred to the famous case of actress, Angelina Jolie, who – because she was aware of a family history of breast cancer – sought genetic testing and shared publicly that it was confirmed she carried the BRCA gene, a genetic mutation associated with a very high risk for a woman to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. At that time – several years ago – it was controversial and preeminent that Jolie opted to have a prophylactic double mastectomy to ensure that she never developed the possibly deadly disease. Now, the guidelines set forth by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), which Allard-Picou referred to as “the bible” for cancer doctors, recommends that every woman who tests positive for the BRCA gene consider mastectomy as a possible approach to prevention and, because NCCN now makes that recommendation, most insurance will cover that treatment if a woman ultimately opts for it.
But Allard-Picou emphasized that Bassett’s genetic testing for predisposition to cancer spans far beyond working to identify BRCA.
“We test for a whole host of genes,” said Allard-Picou. “While BRCA is the most common mutation and the main thing we are looking for, we now test for over 100 genes that could indicate a patient is at higher risk – not just for breast cancer – but other types of cancer, as well.”
Allard-Picou recommends that anyone interested in exploring breast care and cancer treatment at Bassett should consult with their primary care physician, who would provide a detailed referral if that doctor agreed that it was a good course of action.
A member of the Bassett Cancer Center administrative staff and native to the Otsego County region shared that patients come to Bassett for breast cancer care “from all over,” where Bassett and its reputation for treating the disease reach many counties across New York State and the Northeast region.
Bassett Healthcare Network’s team of breast surgeons and oncologists encourage patients to get regular breast cancer screenings in order to detect the disease in its early stages, which greatly increases rates of survival and positive outcomes.
That same staffer shared that the Bassett Cancer Center has been dedicated to cancer treatment in Central New York for almost 40 years – she knows – because her own mother was treated there for breast cancer that long ago and … more recently … so was she.
She added, “that’s why I love working here.”
Bassett Cancer Institute at FoxCare – 1 FoxCare Drive, Ste. 403, Oneonta – 607-433-6470
Hours: Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Bassett Healthcare Network Cancer Center – 1 Atwell Road – Clinic Building – Floor T2 – Cooperstown – 607-547-3336 Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.