How to Choose a Breast Cancer Care Center

One of the most important decisions a woman will make in the course of her breast cancer treatment is the choice of the facility where she will get most of her care. Although some women will have limited choices as a result of geography or health coverage restrictions, most women will have some freedom to choose the best facility for them.

In the wake of a cancer diagnosis, it's common to feel overwhelmed by all the new information that must be absorbed. But taking an active role in determining how and where treatment will be take place can help regain a sense of control.

Just as each woman's experience with breast cancer is unique, each will have a unique definition of the ideal breast cancer care facility. One of the first steps a woman should take is to ask her doctors what facilities they would recommend to their mother or sister for breast cancer treatment. Friends and family who have been through breast cancer treatment should also be asked for recommendations. This process will create a short list of facilities to look at. Feel free to visit the facilities on this list before making a final decision.

Some elements to look for in a facility include:

  • Closeness to home or work

  • If travel is involved, a comfortable place to stay overnight

  • Ease of transportation

  • Easy parking

  • A clean and well-maintained facility

  • Experience with the woman's specific type of breast cancer

  • Knowledgeable, friendly staff

  • Approval by the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons

  • Affiliation with the National Cancer Institute

  • Membership in the Association of Community Cancer Centers

  • Accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations

  • Affiliation with an academic research program (useful if participation in a clinical trial is desired)

  • Emotional and psychological support services, such as support groups and counseling

  • Assistance coordinating and scheduling care and appointments

  • Patient advocates

  • Health-education programs and resources to make treatment and post-treatment healthy and comfortable

  • A team approach, which allows coordinated access to specialists involved the treatment, which may include:

    • Gynecologists
    • Health educators
    • Medical oncologists
    • Nurses
    • Nutritionists or dietitians
    • Plastic surgeons
    • Psychologists
    • Radiation oncologists
    • Social workers
    • Surgical oncologists

  • Presence of services that might be needed during care, including:

    • Advanced diagnostic equipment
    • Advanced therapeutic equipment
    • Blood bank
    • Diagnostic lab
    • Emergency unit
    • Intensive care unit
    • Pathology lab
    • Rehabilitation services
    • Respiratory therapy services
    • Social services
    • Tumor board

FOR MORE INFORMATION: The American Cancer Society offers an online locator for help in finding a treatment center; go to, click on "Treatment Decision Tools," then "Find Treatment Centers."

SOURCES: American Cancer Society (

Written by Madeline Roberts Vann, MPH

Reviewed by Susan L. Luedke, MD
St. Louis Cancer & Breast Institute
St. Louis University Medical Center

Last updated September 2008