Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: Now What?
A breast cancer diagnosis can leave you feeling emotional, overwhelmed, and of course, full of questions. We’d like to help you address some of the questions head-on so you can be prepared for your first oncology appointment with Affiliated Oncologists.
We hope this guide will make your journey through breast cancer treatment a bit smoother.
Write It Down
During your first appointment, your oncologist will be sharing many important details with you that can be hard to remember. To ensure you capture it all, we suggest having a notebook to keep a record of important information. This can include notes on how you’re feeling and what medicines or supplements you’re taking. You can write down any questions, thoughts, or observations you think of between appointments. Do your best to put a date so you can keep your thoughts and notes organized.
If you prefer something other than pen and paper, consider audio recordings taken with your phone. Whatever method suits you best is fine—just pick one method and commit to using it regularly. Having well-documented information is one of the best ways to keep the lines of communication open between you and your doctors.
Some things to keep in mind when asking about your breast cancer could include:
- Should I change any current lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, rest, stress level)?
- Do I have any genetic mutations that could affect other family members?
- Is there any suspected lymph node involvement?
- What can I expect during future appointments?
- Are there any activities to avoid? Are there any that should be added to my routine?
- Are there any natural supplements I can or can’t take to boost my nutrition level?
- Who is on my cancer care team?
- What are the breast cancer treatment options, goals, and side effects?
- Are clinical trials an option? Would I be a good candidate?
- How soon do I have to make a decision regarding treatment?
- Will I have access to supportive care?
Many people find it helpful to bring a family member or friend to appointments to help ask questions and take notes. Having an extra set of ears may help you recall details later on.
What Kind of Doctor Should I See?
After a cancer diagnosis, you will begin working with an oncologist, rather than a PCP (primary care physician) or gynecologist. Oncology is the study of cancer, therefore, an oncologist is a doctor who is medically trained to lead the care for patients after a cancer diagnosis. As a patient of Affiliated Oncologists you will have access to our breast cancer specialists in Chicago Ridge, Mokena, and Hazel Crest.
Your oncologist will take time to learn about your specific diagnosis and will consult with your care team and you to develop a personalized treatment plan. Your care team will include several specialists, including:
- Medical oncologist
- Breast cancer surgeon, with specialty in oncoplastics
- Radiation oncologist
- Plastic surgeon, if needed
- Cancer care specialists who can assist with treating side effects caused by breast cancer treatments
Surgery may seem like a logical first step, however, some patients can benefit from a different approach. Visiting with a medical oncologist first will help determine the best treatment for your specific diagnosis.
What Type of Breast Cancer do I Have?
Breast cancer can begin in different areas of the breast— the ducts, the lobules, and sometimes the tissue in between. Some genes, and the proteins they make, play a role in how breast cancer behaves and how it might respond to treatment. The human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, also called HER2/neu or ErbB2, is one such gene. Your HER2 status and hormone receptors will be used by your oncology team to determine your breast cancer type and the type of treatment you may receive.
Approximately 70 percent of breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive. The percentage is even higher among older women. Your oncologist will perform the tests and then explain how the results may affect your treatment plan. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Learn more about breast cancer and the various types of treatment.
What is the Extent of My Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer stages are typically expressed as a number on a scale of 0 through IV, with stage 0 representing contained, non-invasive cancers and stage IV representing cancers that have spread. The results of the biopsy and images taken will allow your oncologist to determine the extent of your breast cancer. Read more about breast cancer staging.
Which Breast Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?
There are several types of breast cancer treatment options— all of which your cancer care team will discuss with you. Treatments will be based on a variety of factors including the type, stage of your breast cancer, and your age. Breast cancer treatment options include:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
Your Affiliated Oncologists team will evaluate your individual situation and recommend the most effective treatment options.
What About Breast Cancer Clinical Trials?
As a member of US Oncology Research, Affiliated Oncologists can provide access to the latest clinical trials in several convenient locations. These breast cancer clinical trials help uncover various new treatment options, including new breast cancer treatments, and give many patients the opportunity to receive newly developed therapies or investigational drugs not yet available outside the study.
Talk to your oncologist to find out if you are right for one of our available breast cancer trials.
Your First Oncology Appointment
Support is highly important during your cancer journey, which is why we highly recommend that you take a relative or friend with you to your first appointment. Not only will they be there to provide emotional support, they can listen and help take notes on all the information you will be discussing. Learn more about your first visit with an Affiliated Oncologists breast cancer specialist.
After Breast Cancer Treatment
Your oncologist will want to monitor you closely once you have completed breast cancer treatment. Therefore, it is very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits your doctor will address your questions and concerns, ask about side effects related to treatment, and discuss other follow-up treatments that may be necessary, such as hormone therapy or reconstructive surgery. Remember to bring your notebook (or other documentation method) and a support partner to as many visits as possible.
Should I Get a Cancer Diagnosis Second Opinion?
You should feel confident about your breast cancer diagnosis. This is why many patients choose to get a second opinion before beginning a specific treatment plan. At Affiliated Oncologists, our physicians provide second opinions on both breast cancer diagnosis and treatment options. Many insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment. It is important to contact your insurance provider for verification of coverage for second opinion appointments.
You are Not Alone in Your Breast Cancer Journey
The physicians and staff at Affiliated Oncologists are here to support you every step of the way, including providing our patients with a binder with more helpful tips and what to expect during their breast cancer journey. There are also various national resources that may help you too. Visit our Patient Resources page for more breast cancer resources.