A breast cancer diagnosis causes many emotions and questions that may be difficult to sort through at first. It’s not unusual to feel uncertain or overwhelmed. Our dedicated team of breast cancer specialists is here to help through the entire process. We’ll make sure you have a clear understanding of your diagnosis and treatment options. You’re bound to have many questions. We will take the time to answer them for you and make sure you have what you need to make decisions together with your support network about how to proceed with breast cancer treatment.
We’ve compiled some information that we feel will help answer some of your preliminary questions and best prepare you for your first oncology appointment.
Talk With a Medical Oncologist Before Surgery
If you’ve been told you have a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a medical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer treatment.
While some cancer patients begin seeking advice from a surgeon first, that is usually not the best course of action. Starting with a medical oncologist can help you to shorten your treatment by avoiding surgery and using other approaches, like chemotherapy or radiation. When surgery is required, the breast cancer surgeon will be brought in by the medical oncologist who has a full understanding of the treatment plan before and after surgery.
Your First Oncology Appointment
The first oncology appointment will include a lot of information. After reviewing the test results that led to the diagnosis, the oncologist will explain more about the type of breast cancer you have. The type of breast cancer impacts the treatment options that will be available. You may also need to have a few more tests run before the best approach for treatment is recommended. They will explain what those tests are and why they’re needed.
We always suggest bringing a friend or relative with you to your appointments for emotional support and to help you take notes. You may learn more about your first oncology visit with Minnesota Oncology here.
All of this information may feel like a lot. We suggest taking notes throughout your first appointment so you can reflect on it once you’ve had a chance to take it all in. In your notebook, you should jot down important information that your doctor shares, plus any medications or concerns that you have in-between visits. It’s a good idea to include the dates to better help you identify any patterns and keep your thoughts organized.
While many people use simple paper and pen, you could also use audio recording with your cell phone. This method may be easier for some people. Whatever way you choose to document, just try to be consistent to help you communicate most effectively with your doctor. Some people find it helpful to bring a friend or family member to be part of the conversation. Doing so may help you recall important information later.
Common Questions Asked by Breast Cancer Patients
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, and you’re not sure what questions to ask, here are some of the most common questions we get about what to expect and what you can do to improve the likelihood that your treatment will work:
- 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 oncology 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?
- 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 decide on treatment?
- Will I have access to supportive care?
- When will I need to have surgery?
Will There be Other Specialists Involved in My Treatment for Breast Cancer?
Your care team will include several specialists, including:
- Medical oncologist - the lead physician for your breast cancer treatment
- Breast cancer surgeon - an approach that improves cosmetic outcomes
- Radiation oncologist, if needed
- Plastic surgeon, if needed
- Oncology nurses who are there with you during your chemotherapy treatments.
- Social workers who can help with the day to day management of cancer and your specific situation
- Genetic counselor, if there is an indication that there is a hereditary link to your breast cancer
There are many treatment options in place, and consideration will be given about which option is right for you based on the specifics of your 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 oncology team will use your HER2 status and hormone receptors to determine your breast cancer type and the type of treatment you may receive.
Approximately 70% 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.
What is the Stage 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 biopsy results and images were 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?
The type of treatment that you receive will depend on many factors, including the type and stage of your breast cancer and your age. While there are many breast cancer treatment options, your oncologist will go over each option and work with you to determine which treatment is the best for your needs.
Breast cancer treatment options include:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
One of the big questions on most women’s minds is, “Will I lose my hair?” Talk to your oncologist about the medicines they are planning to use and the side effects including hair loss. This will help you mentally and physically prepare for this temporary (for most women) side effect.
What Are Breast Cancer Clinical Trials?
As a US Oncology Research member, Minnesota Oncology 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 allow many patients to receive newly developed therapies or investigational drugs not yet available outside the study. Your oncologist can provide more information about which clinical trials may be right for you.
Should I Get a Second Opinion About My Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Plan?
You absolutely need to feel confident about your cancer diagnosis. If you are uncertain about your diagnosis or treatment, or just didn’t feel like communication was good with the oncologist during your first appointment, then seek a second opinion. Most medical insurance offers coverage for second opinions. Minnesota Oncology has years of experience providing second opinions for patients, and we are happy to do the same for you. Learn more about second opinions at Minnesota Oncology.
Breast Cancer Specialists in the Twin Cities
The dedicated and compassionate staff at Minnesota Oncology is here to support you every step of the way throughout your cancer journey. We have all of the various breast cancer treatment specialties in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area including the surrounding communities: Coon Rapids, Fridley, Plymouth, Maplewood, and Woodbury.
Please contact our office today to schedule an appointment.