One in eight women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. While treatments for the disease have advanced and survival rates are improving, the National Breast Cancer Foundation also reported that breast cancer remains the most common cancer for American women and approximately 287,500 new diagnoses will be made by the end of 2022.
Early detection and prevention plans are important for slowing the progression of the disease and increasing the rate of survival. Additionally, asking the right questions when diagnosed with cancer is critical, providing essential information for patients who are beginning their journey to recovery.
Below are eight questions to ask upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis.
- What type of breast cancer and receptor status do I have? Learning more about the type of cancer along with the receptor status can give patients clarity about their diagnosis and a better understanding of their current health status. Patients need to know their diagnosis because it encourages follow-up questions and the opportunity for accurate information to be discussed between the oncologist and patient.
- How is the type of treatment decided? Women are different and so are cancers and their characteristics. That is why treatments are individualized to the patient and targeted to the specific type of cancer. Certain therapies that work for one patient may not be as successful for another.
- Do all breast cancer patients require chemotherapy? Chemotherapy is a common treatment chosen for many cancer patients because of its aggressive nature. However, depending on the type of cancer, chemotherapy may not be recommended as part of the treatment plan for breast cancer.
- How will my cancer and treatment plan affect my quality of life? Cancer and cancer treatments can disrupt many aspects of life. Patients can struggle with cognitive performance and pain management, for example. It is important to share concerns with the oncologist throughout the cancer journey, from the start of the diagnosis to post-treatment. Oncologists do their best to ensure quality of life is maintained, and if it is not, sometimes there are changes that can be made to help patients in this particular area of concern or additional remedies that can be recommended.
- Will I be able to continue working or take care of my family while undergoing treatment? While many cancer patients find treatments lead to nausea, fatigue and weakness, each patient experiences their treatments differently. Discussing with the oncologist symptoms and side effects of the cancer diagnosis and associated treatments helps patients determine what is to be expected, allowing them to make needed adjustments in their day-to-day routine — whether that is at work or at home.
- Will I need to make any nutritional changes? Eating well and ensuring proper nutrition is maintained play important roles in a patients’ cancer journey and recovery, which is why a dietitian is often part of the care team. There are several foods that patients will want to consume and others, such as raw fish and unpasteurized dairy products, that need to be avoided.
- How do I tell my children I have breast cancer? Sharing news of a life-threatening disease is difficult and emotionally taxing. Patients should share their diagnosis with children when they are ready and have received accurate information to avoid misleading the conversation. Many patients have found it helpful to rehearse what is to be said with a spouse, family member or close friend.
- Are there support groups available to help patients and their families? Having support throughout the cancer journey is important because cancer can take a toll mentally, physically and emotionally. Support systems have been shown to positively influence cancer outcomes, and patients should establish their support systems early on. Start with creating a support group of family and friends and then branch out to local and national groups such as those provided by the American Cancer Society to find additional resources.
These questions provide transparency into a complicated disease. Knowing not only the type of breast cancer but more about the treatment options available and lifestyle changes that may be required helps patients understand their diagnosis, make better-informed health decisions and feel involved in their care plan.