A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and can certainly leave you feeling lost and confused. It may be easy to forget about some of the basic details that come along with such weighty health news. However, after you receive your diagnosis, there are several important follow-up questions you should make sure to ask if your doctor hasn’t already covered them.
Here are some of those questions your doctor should answer after you’ve received your diagnosis.
10. What stage is the cancer?
Knowing what stage your breast cancer is and how much it has spread will inform you of your best treatment options. A doctor determines the stage on whether or not the cancer is invasive, or spreading, the size of the tumor, and how far it has spread.
A later-stage diagnosis may require more aggressive treatment.
9. What are my chances of survival?
It’s the big question that everyone wants to know. If you’re ready to ask, your doctor should be able to provide you with a 5-year survival rate. This is an estimate that tells patients what percentage of people who’ve faced a similar type of cancer are alive five years after their diagnosis.
While these numbers provide one type of outlook, they do not tell the whole story. Your personal outlook depends on a variety of factors, including the stage of your cancer, as well how much it was developed at the time of your diagnosis.
8. Is there enough information to recommend a treatment plan?
Obviously, you want to begin treatment as soon as possible. Ask your doctor if you have enough information to begin a treatment plan and get a leg up on your medical care. Your treatment plan will depend on a variety of factors, including your age, your overall health, and the stage and type of your breast cancer.
There are two types of breast cancer treatments, which are local therapy and systemic therapy. Local therapy involves the removal of a tumor and radiation, while systemic therapy includes chemotherapy or hormone therapy to treat cancer cells that have become more widespread.
7. Do I need more tests?
In some cases, your treatment may be more involved and require additional tests. Ask your doctor what you need to do to gather all the necessary information so you can make your final decisions about treatment. Depending on the type of breast cancer you have, some examples of additional tests you may need to take could be a hormone receptor status test or an HER2 status test. Both tests help determine the proper treatment for patients with certain types of invasive cancers.
Or you may need a genomic test to determine if chemotherapy can be beneficial for you.
6. What is the hormone receptor status of my cancer?
The hormone receptor status monitors whether or not cancer cells have estrogen or progesterone receptors. Receptors are proteins found in breast cells, and they rely on hormones such as estrogen and progesterone for the cells to grow. If your cancer has estrogen receptors, it is ER-positive. If it has progesterone receptors, it is PR-positive.
This is important to know because it helps your doctor determine if hormonal therapy is a viable treatment option for you.
5. What is the HER2 status of my cancer?
Women who have been diagnosed with an invasive form of breast cancer should undergo an HER2 status test, which looks for higher levels of the protein HER2. Cancers that are HER2-positive have a tendency to spread faster than other cases of breast cancer. Patients whose cancer is HER2-positive are often treated with drugs that target the protein.
4. Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes?
After a breast cancer diagnosis, your doctor will check your lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread. If it has spread, it will generally move to your underarm lymph nodes first.
Your doctor may use three terms to explain how far the cancer has progressed. If the cancer is “local,” it remains within the breast area. If it is “regional,” then it has spread to the lymph nodes. If your doctor describes the cancer as “distant,” then it has spread to other parts throughout the body.
Your doctor may have you undergo further tests to monitor how far the cancer has progressed, and may recommend chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
3. When do I need to make a decision about my treatment?
Although beginning treatment as soon as possible is important when it comes to fighting cancer, it’s also important to explore all of your options. What works for you and your situation may be different than what works for somebody else with a similar type of cancer. Know when you have to make the final decision so that you can choose your treatment wisely.
2. In the event of an emergency, who should I contact and how should I contact them?
Have your doctor or medical team on speed dial in case you have an unusual reaction to a treatment or need emergency care. Get the appropriate contact information in advance so that you’ll be prepared should the moment of crisis arrive.
1. Who should I talk to about costs and insurance?
Cancer treatment can be expensive, whether you have health insurance or not. Find out who you should talk to about organizing your finances and taking care of costs. There are nonprofit organizations like CancerCare and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that offer different types of support and assistance to those dealing with cancer. Professionals at the hospital or at your local health department can help you find such resources that may be available to you.
Asking these questions may not be easy, but they’re important when it comes to helping you make the best decisions for your treatment plan. Make sure to talk often with your health care team, and don’t be afraid to speak up when your doctor says something you don’t understand.
The Breast Cancer Site is a place where supporters and survivors come together to help fight breast cancer. In addition to sharing personal stories of hope, shopping for the cause, and signing petitions, visitors can take just a moment each day to click on a pink button to provide free mammograms for women in need. Visit The Breast Cancer Site and click today - it's free!