You’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now what?
If you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, you may be feeling overwhelmed with a lot of questions. We’d like to help you address some of the questions and help you prepare for your first oncology appointment.
We hope this guide will help you choose the right path for your breast cancer treatment.
Keep a Notebook
It can be hard to remember all the important details that you may want to know or refer back to, especially for your first few doctor's appointments. We suggest getting a notebook to keep a record from the start. Write down important information such as how you’re feeling and any medicines or supplements you’re taking. Also, write down your questions and thoughts before you go in for your appointments. This is also a good place for notes and answers to your questions during the appointment. Try to put a date on everything you write down.
If a written notebook isn’t easy for you, choose a method that you like and then commit to using it regularly. Often, when information is put on paper it can ease your mind, allowing you to focus thoughts elsewhere. And remember, communication is key – that goes not only for your doctors but for you, too.
We recommend bringing a friend or family member with you to appointments to have an extra set of ears. They can be helpful in taking notes, remembering details, reminding you of questions to ask, and emotional support.
Things to keep in mind when asking about your breast cancer include:
- Information about any genetic connection your family members may need to consider
- Your lifestyle (diet, exercise, rest, stress)
- What to expect during your future appointments
- Are there any activities to avoid? Any you should add to your routine?
- Diet and nutrition recommendations. Are there any natural supplements I can or can’t take?
- Who is involved in the cancer care team?
- What are the breast cancer treatment options, goals, and side effects?
- Are clinical trials an option?
- Is there access to supportive care?
- Is there any suspected lymph node involvement?
- What time frame do I have to make treatment decisions?
This list is just a start to help guide you through your first appointments. Use your notebook for writing down any questions, big or small, that come up between appointments.
What Kind of Doctor Should I See First?
Typically, patients will move from a PCP (primary care physician) to other physicians who specialize in the study of cancer, or oncologists, for treatment. A medical oncologist or breast cancer surgeon typically leads the care for breast cancer patients after diagnosis.
Your medical oncologist will spend time with you and your loved ones to understand your specific situation and will consult with the multidisciplinary team of physicians who treat breast cancer to develop a specific treatment plan for you. They will connect you with additional specialists as needed, this may include one or more of the following:
- Breast Cancers Surgeons
- Radiation Oncologist
- Support Services
- Plastic Surgeon
- Palliative Care Nurse
It’s natural to feel that the first step should be surgery, but it’s best to visit with the breast cancer oncologist first. In some cases, other treatments may be better for your particular diagnosis.
What Kind of Breast Cancer Do I Have?
Your oncology team will classify the type of breast cancer you have based upon hormone receptors and HER2 status. Different types of breast cancer have receptors for certain hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone or the growth-promoting protein called Her2/neu.
Determining whether you have these receptors will help determine the type of breast cancer treatment you receive.
Approximately 2 out of 3 breast cancers have at least one of these receptors. This percentage is higher in older women than in younger women. Your oncologist will perform the tests and then explain how the results may affect your specific treatment plan. Be sure to ask questions along the way!
What is the Extent of My Breast Cancer?
Your oncologist will also determine the extent of your breast cancer based upon the results of the biopsy and images taken. Breast cancer staging refers to identifying the extent of the cancer and then determining the best procedure for treatment. Breast cancer is staged from levels 0 through IV, with each level indicating the size and direction the cancer is invading other tissue or parts of the body. Read more about breast cancer staging.
Which Breast Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?
Treatments will be based on your specific type of breast cancer, stage of the cancer, your overall health, and other related factors. Possible treatment options include:
- Chemotherapy – cancer-killing drugs either injected into a vein or administered orally.
- Targeted Therapy – specific cancer drugs typically for hormone-receptive (HER2 and HR+) cancers.
- Breast Cancer Surgery – surgery may be performed after chemotherapy has first shrunk the tumor and reduced the risk of the cancer spreading.
- Radiation Therapy – high-energy rays for external beam radiation or internal brachytherapy.
- Clinical Trials – The latest therapies or new combinations of existing therapies under investigation for widespread use.
Your oncologist at Arizona Oncology will recommend treatment for your individual situation. Learn more about breast cancer treatments.
After Breast Cancer Treatment
Following specific breast cancer treatments, typically some type of follow-up cancer treatments will be recommended to supplement and/or keep a close watch on your treated areas. Your Arizona Oncology oncologist will inform you of what is recommended next. This might include one or more of the following:
Should I Get a Second Opinion?
Faced with an important decision like where to receive breast cancer treatment and what breast cancer treatment plan to follow, you’ll want to be confident in your approach and comfortable with the cancer specialists who will be taking care of your body and your family throughout this experience. Plus, your physician should be aware of and oversee your emotional care during this sensitive time.
It’s important to know that cancer specialists should never be offended when you seek a second opinion for your cancer diagnosis – it’s very customary and expected. Most insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment but still, check with your insurance provider to know for certain prior to making an appointment.
In most cases, the second opinion will give you added confidence in beginning a certain treatment program. We want you to feel comfortable with your doctor and health care team and treatment.
If you want to see an oncologist at Arizona Oncology about a second opinion on a cancer diagnosis that you have already received, please visit our appointments page or call one of our Arizona Oncology office locations to request your second opinion appointment.
We know this is a difficult time, but you can do this. Arizona Oncology has physicians and staff treating patients in over 24 locations in Northern Arizona, Southern Arizona and the Phoenix area. We’re here to answer questions and connect you with the resources you need.
Our team is committed to supporting you throughout your breast cancer experience. Our staff is with you every step of the way and will be sure you have all the information you need, including community resources. We coordinate and work with many foundations throughout the community to help with wigs, breast prostheses, support groups and more.