Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be overwhelming and emotional. A million thoughts run through your mind and it can be difficult to figure out what questions you should ask or what next steps should you should take.
Preparing for your first appointment
- Write down a list of questions.
- If possible, bring a relative or friend who can be part of this meeting with you and take notes.
- Be sure to ask for copies of lab results, pathology tests and any other evaluations.
- When scheduling your appointment, ask if there is a breast cancer navigator available to provide support, information and assistance.
Five questions to ask your breast cancer specialist
1. What kind of breast cancer do I have?
Where exactly is it located?
2. Is the tumor considered slow-growing or aggressive, invasive or non-invasive?
Has it spread? This is determined by a sentinel lymph node biopsy – a surgical procedure that helps detect cancer in the lymph nodes and determines how many are affected.
3. What stage is it?
- Staging can be either clinical or pathological. When staging takes place before surgery, it is clinical staging, and based on tests such as an MRI, mammogram and more. When staging is pathological, it is determined based on the findings from surgery when breast tissue and lymph nodes are removed.
- Most cancers are staged using the TNM system. The letters TNM describe the amount and spread of cancer in your body:
- T: indicates how big the tumor is and whether the cancer has spread into surrounding tissue.
- N: indicates whether the cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes.
- M: indicates metastasis, which means that cancer has spread to other body parts.
- Using TNM, your doctor will diagnose your cancer according to one of the stages – Stage 0, Stage I, Stage 2, Stage 3 or Stage 4.
4. What other tests may be performed?
- CT scan of the chest and abdomen
- MRI scan of the breast, chest, abdomen and pelvis (hip area)
- Bone scan to see if cancer has spread to the bones
- Positron emission tomography DCT (PET/CT) to help detect distant spread of tumor, especially for locally advanced disease
- Genetic testing may be performed to see if there is a possible genetic source for your breast cancer
5. What are some types of breast cancer treatment options?
- Radiation therapy
- Hormonal therapy
- Biological therapy
- Targeted therapy
More questions can be found on this Sarah Cannon website page: Talking to Your Doctor About Breast Cancer. Once you have the answers to these initial questions, you may want to get a second opinion. But even if you and your doctor agree with the diagnosis, it's a good idea to meet with a specialist to discuss the treatment options, side effects and physiological changes that can occur.