Sask. A breast cancer patient is still waiting to consult a surgeon 5 months after the tumor was discovered
The mother of two from Weyburn, Sask., has known since early December that she has breast cancer. But by the time you see a surgeon for a consultation, it will have been two and a half months since you got the diagnosis and more than five months since you first discovered a tumor.
Lisa Vick, 48, is one of many women in the province facing bottlenecks in the health care system due to a shortage of radiologists and surgeons who specialize in breast diseases. Vic cannot discuss your cancer treatment plan until your consultation with your surgeon is completed.
Vick said she has good support from her family, but the long waits and lack of communication have taken a toll on her mental health.
“I’m usually pretty healthy, but the mental anguish of not knowing…I got really sick and made several trips to the emergency room for treatment,” Vick said.
Vick discovered a lump in her right breast in September 2023. She tried to make an appointment with her family doctor, but it would have taken a full month, so she saw another doctor who gave her a referral for a mammogram and ultrasound. She then had to wait two months for those procedures.
Vick said she had felt the tumor growing since she first discovered it in September.
“It’s starting to cause me some discomfort and (impede) my movement. Just knowing that he’s there…” Vic paused, touching her hand to her chest.
It’s been just over two months since the boycott She announced she would send patients to a clinic in Calgary To address the backlog of breast cancer tests. After Vick was officially diagnosed with breast cancer on Dec. 4, her doctor deemed her condition urgent and referred her to Calgary for a breast biopsy.
This procedure will determine exactly what type of breast cancer you have. She traveled to the clinic on Jan. 10 and got the pathology results on her MySaskHealthRecord website a week later, but said the results were not clearly explained to her. All she knows is that she has invasive ductal carcinoma in situ. She is now awaiting her surgeon’s consultation scheduled for February 20.
Dr. Adam Augelglou, a family physician in Saskatoon, said Vick’s long wait to consult with a surgeon is concerning.
“This patient felt a lump in her breast in September, and here we are in February, five months later, and we still haven’t done anything for the patient in terms of treatment,” Oceglo said.
“All of this leads to more advanced cases, more difficult recovery times, a more difficult diagnosis for the patient (and) more costs to the health care system in dealing with more advanced cancers.”
There are a lot of unknowns, but just having someone reach out and say, “Hey, we’re working on this, and we understand there’s an issue,” is a huge help.– Lisa Vick, Weyburn
Vick said this weighs heavily on her mind. She thinks of the many other women who are part of the same online breast cancer advocacy groups.
“How many women are going from a curable cancer to an incurable metastatic cancer? They were waiting for treatment, and now there are fewer treatment options. They have to fight it harder, and their lives are at risk. Everyone is because (of) waiting, waiting, waiting.”
Vick said she understands the province is dealing with bottlenecks in the health care system and has accepted that wait times are the reality. But she said communication about what was happening was missing, not only from overworked doctors, but from the province as well.
“I had to fend for myself. I was still sitting at home wondering when the phone was going to ring and if it was going to be an oncologist, or if it was going to be a surgeon, or if it was going to be my (general practitioner).” “He’s asking me to come back and review some of the results,” Vick said.
She decided to take matters into her own hands and reached out to various centers and doctors along the way to make sure she received her various referrals.
“There are a lot of unknowns, but just having someone reach out and say, ‘Hey, we’re working on this, and we understand there’s an issue,’ is a big help.”
Vick said she feels comfortable advocating for herself and looking for answers, but she knows many women in her situation may not. She said she wants to see the government step up its efforts and issue regular reports on how it is progressing on diagnostics and the upcoming surgical backlog.
“I want to know that they are hiring more radiologists and breast surgeons to help alleviate these bottlenecks that we are seeing in this county.”
Health Minister Everett Hindley sat down with CBC last week to discuss the bottleneck situation, as well as Vic’s experience. He said the time she had to wait to consult a surgeon was unacceptable, and echoed Dr Oceglo’s concerns.
“It’s not an acceptable period of time because every day and every week that goes by when it comes to a cancer diagnosis affects the chances of being able to treat it correctly and successfully,” Hindley said.
“If at any point along that pathway there is a bottleneck or there is a gap that impacts the patient and their chances of being treated successfully, that is unacceptable.”
If there is a bottleneck at any point along this path or a gap that affects the patient and their chances of success in treatment, this is unacceptable.– Health Secretary Everett Hindley
Hindley said the county is focusing on shortening wait times as much as possible. The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) told CBC in a statement that it began calling patients on Nov. 30 to receive breast biopsy and diagnostic mammography care in Calgary. As of February 2, a total of 172 patients had been referred to private health company Clearpoint. Of these, diagnostic procedures have already been completed for about 108 patients there, the SHA said.
Health Minister says province must improve communications
Hindley said the province is making progress in its search for radiologists and breast surgeons, but acknowledged it can and should do a better job of communicating updates to the public.
“We need to make sure that, first, we get diagnosis and treatment to patients as quickly as possible,” he said.
“But as part of helping them move through this system, we need to make sure that we do everything we can to provide that communication so patients know what the next steps are, and so (we) reassure them that they will be taken care of.”
Hindley’s office told CBC that the SHA is currently working to hire a nurse navigator in Regina whose role is to guide breast cancer patients through diagnostic and treatment pathways.
According to the SHA, Regina currently has only one full-time radiologist who specializes in breast diagnostics. Meanwhile, the center currently has four full-time radiologists and a local radiologist collaborating to provide this service in Saskatoon.
Throughout 2023 and 2024, eight surgeons performed breast surgery in Saskatoon, according to the SHA. There are only four surgeons in Regina who perform these procedures. However, one of them is going on maternity leave, and another is not taking breast cancer patients as frequently as the remaining two.
When asked if the province would have to consider sending breast cancer patients out of the province for surgeries, Hindley said that is not an option the province wants to consider.
Now that patients are going to Calgary, the Ministry of Health told CBC it has a plan for how to treat a potential influx of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. She said she is working with the SHA to provide additional support to Regina doctors who provide breast cancer surgeries so they can adhere to surgical timelines.
New technology in the business
In a statement to CBC on Friday, the Ministry of Health said the Saskatchewan government is investing in more laboratory resources and technology. This is intended to improve laboratory response times for biopsy results at the province’s main laboratory centers in Regina and Saskatoon.
“For example, Saskatchewan has begun trialling a new technology that simplifies and supports more patient-friendly localization of breast tumors.”
Traditionally, a radiologist inserts a wire into the breast tissue to identify the tumor for surgeons before surgery.
“This was often inconvenient for patients and required scheduling radiology and surgery on the same day. With this new technology, the radiologist plants a ‘seed’ 30 days before the procedure, allowing the patient and surgeon to better coordinate the surgery date,” the ministry said. “.
Additional surgeons in Regina and at regional sites will be trained to perform these “essential” procedures, she said. Moose Jaw general surgeons will be part of pooled referrals for breast surgeries in Regina and the region.