It’s Breast Cancer. Now What?

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Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be overwhelming and emotional. A million thoughts run through your mind and it can be difficult to figure out what questions you should ask or what next steps should you should take.

Preparing for your first appointment

  1. Write down a list of questions.Breast cancer navigator
  2. If possible, bring a relative or friend who can be part of this meeting with you and take notes.
  3. Be sure to ask for copies of lab results, pathology tests and any other evaluations.
  4. When scheduling your appointment, ask if there is a breast cancer navigator available to provide support, information and assistance.

Five Questions to Ask Your Breast Cancer Specialist

  1. What kind of breast cancer do I have? Where exactly is it located?
  2. Is the tumor considered slow-growing or aggressive, invasive or non-invasive? Has it spread? This is determined by a sentinel lymph node biopsy—a surgical procedure that helps detect cancer in the lymph nodes and determines how many are affected.
  3. What stage is it?
    • Stage 0—Also called in situ, this means the cancer has not spread to other tissues.
    • Stage I—The cancer has spread beyond the lobe or duct and invaded nearby tissue, but is no larger than two centimeters in size.
    • Stage II—The cancer 1) is less than two centimeters but has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm (axillary nodes); 2) is between two and five centimeters and may or may not have spread to the axillary nodes; or 3) is larger than five centimeters but has not spread to the axillary nodes.
    • Stage III—The tumor is large (more than five centimeters in size) and the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and possibly surrounding areas.
    • Stage IV—Cancer has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
  4. What other tests may be performed?
  5. What are my treatment options?
    • Surgery
    • Radiation therapy
    • Chemotherapy
    • Hormonal therapy
    • Biological therapy

More questions can be found on this Sarah Cannon website page: Talking to Your Doctor About Breast Cancer. Once you have the answers to these initial questions, you may want to get a second opinion. But even if you and your doctor agree with the diagnosis, it’s a good idea to meet with a specialist to discuss the treatment options, side effects and physiological changes that can occur.

 

Sources:

Mayo Clinic—Cancer diagnosis? Advice for dealing with what comes next

American Cancer Society—After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families (PDF download)

CNN Health—After cancer diagnosis, what comes next? (video)

National Cancer Institute—Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

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