A diagnosis of breast cancer can be frightening, but it's important to take this advice from Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer Society in order to understand and make informed decisions. "It is OK to take a bit of time to let it sink in. Gather information, or get a second opinion. Most women have options about what the next step should be." Dr. Saslow stresses that women should ask about getting a second opinion on both the diagnosis and treatment plan.
In addition to the questions below, you might think of some of your own. Make sure to write everything down and take notes during your visit.
- What type of breast cancer do I have? How large is the tumor?
- What grade and stage is it? Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?
- What is the HER2 and hormone receptor status of my cancer, and what does this mean?
- Where exactly is the tumor located? Do I have the option of lumpectomy plus radiation or a mastectomy?
- What are my treatment options for this type and stage of breast cancer (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy)? Do I need any other tests before starting or deciding on treatments?
- What are the risks, benefits, side effects and complications of these treatments? How will they make me feel? Will I lose my hair? Can I wear a cooling cap to help reduce hair loss?
- I have young children: Will I need help around the house during my treatment?
- How long will the treatments take? How will I know if they are helping?
- Will any of these treatments cause premature menopause or infertility? Should I consider fertility preservation before starting treatment?
- Will I be able to have children after treatment and would I be able to breastfeed?
- Are there clinical trials available? Are they covered by insurance?
- What kind of support is available to me? Is there a social worker who can advise me on how to tell my employer about my cancer? Do I need to see any other doctors or health professionals?
- What is the long-term outlook?