What are the next steps after a breast cancer diagnosis?
The news of a breast cancer diagnosis can shake anyone to the core. After a breast cancer diagnosis, how can you begin to make sense of the news?
1. Talk to your team.
One of the first steps is to find out more about your diagnosis. New patients at Rush's comprehensive breast cancer clinic can ask questions of an entire team, including a nurse navigator specially trained to help guide women on their breast cancer journey.
"It’s a very stressful time — knowing that you have support from your team is important," says Ruta Rao, MD, an oncologist who specializes in treating breast cancer at Rush University Medical Center.
2. Ask questions.
Some basic questions to ask the team might include the following:
- What type of breast cancer do I have? Different types may have different treatments and outcomes.
- What stage is my cancer — has it spread beyond the breast?
- Should I consider genetic testing? Women who carry one of the BRCA gene mutations — and, therefore, are at high risk for second cancers — may qualify for newer therapies being tested.
- Am I a candidate for a lumpectomy, which spares most of the breast?
- What are my breast reconstruction options?
- Do I also need radiation therapy? If so, am I a candidate for intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT)?
Your team can also help you understand why they might recommend a particular treatment for you.
For example, certain tumors have specific features that make them respond to treatments differently.
One such feature is a protein called HER-2 found on some breast cancer cells, and there are drugs that target this particular protein. "Being HER-2 positive dictates which treatment we would offer, so it's very important to know," Rao says.
Breast cancer is rarely a medical emergency. There’s usually time to consider your options or get additional testing, which your doctor may need ... to plan your treatment.
3. Don't hurry decisions.
"Breast cancer is rarely a medical emergency, although it certainly can seem that way," Rao says.
In fact, there's usually time to consider your options or get additional testing, which your doctor may need in order to plan your treatment.
4. Consider a second opinion.
Your doctor will not be offended if you ask for a second opinion before starting treatment — or when a change in treatment is proposed. "Those are times when a second opinion could be most beneficial to you," Rao says.