Breast Surgeon Pioneer Still Pivoting in 3D Times

Small Business Spotlight: Montclair Breast Center, @MontclairBreast

Who: Dr. Nancy Elliott, founder and director

What: Center offering state-of-art tech options, support for breast cancer patients

Where: Montclair, NJ

When: 1989

Related: 5 Entrepreneurs Making Breast-Cancer Fight Their Business

How: What do women need for breast care? This was the question Dr. Nancy Elliott repeatedly asked herself before opening the doors of Montclair Breast Center  in 1989. And that question has remained an anchor throughout the center’s evolution into the successful practice it is today. That is, of course, if you define success as continually doing what’s best for patients, says Elliott—all 5,000 of them who rely on Montclair Breast Center for their breast care and protection.

But turn back the clock to 1989. Being a breast surgeon was unusual, says Elliott, who was one of the first fellowship trained breast surgeons in the United States. Women gravitated to their gynecologists and to their local mammography center for breast care. But not all breast care and mammographies are created equal, says Elliott. What women really needed, she says, was a physician who specializes in breast care, and, Elliott soon found out, a radiologist trained in mammography.

Initially, Elliott’s practice was limited to women who had breast problems. She saw women who had been referred to her for biopsies because their mammograms had shown abnormal calcifications.

“Really all the women needed was a good mammogram,” she says. Breast imaging was sorely lacking. General radiologists couldn’t read mammograms well, or determine whether to recommend a biopsy or not.

“In reality, a breast surgeon needs to be half breast imager and half surgeon,” she says. “Being there in the very beginning allowed me to imagine the way things could be and allowed me to play a pivotal role in transforming the way breast care is delivered…at least in my corner of world,” says Elliot, whose first practice expansion occurred in 1990 when she started offering mammography and ultrasound .

The center required more physical space to house an MRI. More space resulted in a move to a new building, which ultimately led to the establishment of an onsite ambulatory surgery center, where patients today undergo surgical procedures that can include mastectomy and immediate breast reconstruction surgery. As an extra perk, Elliott is known to make house calls for patients who live in the immediate area.

“We are always looking to innovate to improve our services,” says Elliott. That goal is met through the staff’s weekly Thursday afternoon brainstorming sessions, and because of a philosophy that requires being out front with the latest medical developments and embracing state-of-the-art technology. Most recently, the center introduced 3D mammography.

Elliott, herself is intimately involved with the practice. Like all working moms, she says finding balance remains a challenge, but says that quest has been eased considerably because her husband is a stay-at-home dad.

Though Montclair Breast Center is an out-of-network provider, Elliott spends time talking to insurers about the importance of surveillance and how it saves lives and money. Her one word to the wise for women: “Call up your insurance companies and tell them ‘I want [a particular service], and you don’t have a place in my network that offers it.’ When more women become demanding, things will change.”

The New Jersey State legislature has also heard from Elliott. She’s advocating for density legislation, available in 12 other states, which requires mammography centers to inform patients with dense breasts that mammography alone detects cancer only 50% of the time, and therefore, they are automatically entitled to further testing paid for by insurance.

“The only time to worry about breast cancer is before you get it,” Elliott tells women. “It is what it is when you get it. You can’t go back and say, ‘If only I had a better mammogram, maybe we would have picked it up.’”