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Next Steps After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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Next Steps After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

By Janis Graham, Family Circle

No matter what you may do to prepare yourself, being told that a lump is indeed breast cancer is always a shock. And before you have time to think straight, you’re plunged into a sea of new information and difficult decisions. Although you may feel very alone, you’re not: The road to good treatment is well traveled. Our guide will steer you through these tough times.

Step 1: See a Surgeon

After a positive biopsy the vast majority of women need surgery to completely remove the cancer. You’ll usually be referred to a cancer surgeon—also known as a surgical oncologist. Often times the radiologist or your primary care physician will suggest a surgeon you should see. More than 50 percent of new breast cancer patients rely on this recommendation, as it opens doors and ensures you get an appointment quickly, says Leslie Montgomery, M.D., chief, division of breast surgery at Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cancer Care in the Bronx, New York. Women who select their own surgeon usually do it because of a doctor’s reputation or because they want to be treated at a certain hospital.

Don’t spend too much time debating whom to meet with first. You may ultimately switch to another surgeon (because you want someone more qualified or aren’t confident about the treatment plan outlined by doctor number one). Be aware that you’ll be hit with a load of information at this meeting. If you arrive prepared you’ll feel less overwhelmed. What to do beforehand:

Enlist a friend. At every medical meeting you’ll need a second set of ears. “The average patient hears only about half of what’s said, so it’s critical to bring someone along to hear the other half,” says breast specialist Katherine B. Lee, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Breast Center in Ohio. Whether it’s your husband, sister or friend, this person should be a careful and calm listener, a good note taker, and, if possible, able to accompany you on most appointments.

Learn the cancer basics. Most likely you’ve been told what type of cancer you have by the radiologist and were given radiology and pathology reports. If not, ask for copies. The surgeon should carefully review these results with you, since they’re the key to deciding on treatments. Familiarize yourself with these common terms before your appointment:

“Invasive” versus “ductal carcinoma in situ.” Most breast cancers are invasive, which means the cells have broken out of the milk ducts or glands where they started; ones that are “in situ” are confined and are the earliest form of breast cancer, with the best prognosis.

Hormone receptor status. Some breast cancer cells have receptors that can be activated by estrogen, progesterone, or both. You’ll be a candidate for hormone-blocking agents like tamoxifen or raloxifene (for postmenopausal women) if your cells have these receptors.

HER2-positive or -negative. About 20 percent of all breast cancers overproduce a protein known as HER2. These tumors tend to grow and spread fast, so you may need more aggressive treatment.

Compile your questions. Keep a list of all the things you want clarified and bring it to the appointment. One question to include: “Whom can I call if I have more questions after this appointment?” Don’t be surprised if you can’t get all the answers yet. For instance, a surgeon usually can’t tell you how much a cancer has spread until after your operation.

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34 comments

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1:03PM PST on Feb 2, 2014

Interesting if conventional info. Like someone said, maybe we should clean up our food, air and water and maybe that would be a good help. Thanks.

12:58PM PST on Feb 2, 2014

Thank you for the post.

3:28AM PST on Dec 31, 2013

Noted

9:45PM PDT on Sep 4, 2013

Thank you :)

2:21PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

Sounds like the same old crap to me. I think it's about time we thought more lenier...really...HELLO...same treatment since my aunt in the early 70's..is this really the best we can do...mutilating women...poising them after to the point they need support groups? Let's clean up our food.

5:42PM PST on Dec 3, 2011

Do you know the date you really started to live your life? That date for me was May1,2006. The day of THE LUMP! I found it myself -- knew it was cancer before the doctor told me I was positive for breast cancer. By the time I saw the surgeon, my life had already taken a turn in a direction I never thought possible. I became involved in my treatment -- surgery, chemo-therapy -- these were not going to get the better of me -- I would not allow it!!! When everyone thought I would just sit back -- I stood up, ran for the door and didn't stop. Still going strong, I am still involved by helping others in their fight to win by volunteering at anything I can; breast cancer walks, runs, bake sales, just holding onto another girl's hand when needed. So see, In doing these things, I did not help myself, I was helping others. And I started to live the life I wanted -- a LIFE worthy of mention in the end. -- a LIFE to proud of. I am no longer the "girl with cancer" I became the Survivor who found herself just when she thought life was over. LIFE -- GO LIVE IT!!!

3:25AM PDT on Oct 15, 2011

self check,mammograms,regular check-ups,early detection.....my favorite word is benign.

9:53PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

Excellent article and advice for everyone. Thanks

11:51AM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

I am a five-year survivor of breast cancer who did the "cut, poison, burn" therapy. I was fine throughout treatment and I'm fine today. Not dead. No side effects during or after treatment. My oncologist never told me I was "cured". I'm cancer free, I'm living with no evidence of disease but not cured. When I was diagnosed, I chose to delay my surgery for 2 1/2 months because of a prior commitment. Even though I had always lived a healthy lifestyle, during this 2 1/2 months I made some significant changes to my diet, took supplements that were supposed to shrink the tumor and the list goes on. I was hopeful - maybe it would work. But the tumor grew....

I have met many amazing breast cancer survivors, from 2 years to 25 years - women and men - who have undergone "orthodox" treatment. Like me, they're fine. Living life. No more cancer. No horrible side effects.

Susan L. - I'm curious... where are you getting the tests done that show your cancer is going away? Surely not from the medical system that you show such contempt for. Just sayin'...

9:05PM PDT on Oct 13, 2011

thanks

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