Stephanie Ellis, NP, helps high-risk breast cancer patients navigate care
Stephanie Ellis grew up on Cape Cod, went to local schools and worked her way up through Cape Cod Healthcare from certified nursing assistant to registered nurse to nurse practitioner. Now, she’s helping Cape Cod women defend themselves against breast cancer.
As a key member of the high-risk breast cancer program at the Cuda Women’s Health Center in Hyannis, Ellis plays a crucial role in a high-risk patient’s journey.
“I see everyone who is high risk and I follow them annually or biannually, depending on their history,” said Ellis. Women who are high risk for breast cancer include those with a genetic mutation or family history of breast cancer, and those who have previously had cancer, among other risk factors. These women are followed closely by the medical team at Cuda, she said.
“I make sure that their imaging is up to date, and I review all their imaging,” said Ellis. “I update their family history every year. We calculate a Tryer-Cuzick score – a nationally-recognized scoring system that scores one’s risk for breast cancer - and then we do follow-up imaging and clinical breast exams on an annual basis.”
The purpose of the high-risk program is to provide close monitoring with imaging and physical exams for women who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer, she said.
“I’d be a very rich woman if I could prevent cancer,” Ellis said, “But what I can do is follow these folks closely and educate them. If they were to develop cancer, our goal is to catch it at the very earliest stage. This close monitoring, ideally, allows abnormalities to be detected as early as possible.”
Ellis went back to school for her master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner but she also has post-graduate certification that allows her to assist Cape Cod Hospital breast surgeons Jill Oxley, MD FACS and Naomi Kalliath, DO in the operating room. She also joins both surgeons in providing patient care at the Cuda Breast Care Center at CCHC.
“I don’t do it on a regular basis, but there are certain times when they need that extra set of hands in the OR, and I have that certification to jump in and do that,” Ellis said.
She also does office procedures, such as punch biopsies, which remove a piece of tissue about the size of a pencil eraser and can be done quickly if something suspicious shows up on a clinical breast exam.
“Stephanie is a vital member of our breast team,” said Dr. Oxley. “She is able to see pre-op and post-op patients, provide breast cancer risk assessment, and is the primary provider in our high-risk breast clinic. She can also assist us in the operating room, especially for the more complex cases.”
Ellis is one of six nurse practitioners (NPs) at Cuda. Four NPs on the radiology side work with patients having biopsies and usually deliver the diagnosis. Another NP manages genetic testing. Dr. Oxley describes them all as “invaluable.” Ellis says they are all part of the close Cuda team that includes everyone from medical assistants to physicians.
“NPs help to hold the program together, but the program is held together because we work so collaboratively as a team,” Ellis said. “We’re a beautiful work family….I love going to work every day.”