When we are newly diagnosed with breast cancer, we are shocked, scared and completely overwhelmed. It’s really hard to get your head straight to take the next step. To help you out, I’ve put together a list of ten questions to ask your doctors, and explained what you should expect from the answers at this early stage.
Ten Questions to Ask Your Doctors After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Here are the questions that you can use as prompts during your early appointments right after your breast cancer diagnosis. Some of this information may be provided to your automatically, but if it is not, or you didn’t understand the answers, you can use this to put together a list for your next visit.
Q1: Can I please have copies of all my results?
If you can remember to ask this right at the beginning, you will always have copies of your results to show other medical professionals that you will see.
During your appointments, so much information can be thrown at you quickly, and having the exact reports will mean you can see exactly what you were told, and not rely on your memory – which is probably is complete disarray. It will allow you to go back over the reports after your appointment and learn about the results in your own time.
I carefully googled each term on my reports so that I fully understood my diagnosis, but this may not be for everyone.
Q2: Can you please go through what type, size, grade, stage my cancer is, and is it hormone receptive or HER2+?
These are all the things that define your breast cancer. The only thing is that nothing is 100% certain at this early stage. Some of these may not have been tested for yet, and others are only “best guesses” based on the information available at this stage.
It does help your doctors to decide on what your next treatment option might be or what scans you need to get further information.
It’s important to remember that whatever you are told at this stage, it can always change after surgery.
Q3: Can you please explain treatment options to me?
There are many different types of breast cancer and they can have very different treatment options. Even at this early stage there could be some treatments that are certain, or perhaps you wold just like to learn a little more information to get you started with your decision making.
You will likely hear about chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone blockers, surgery.
Q4: Should I have genetic testing?
This is a huge question on the mind of many women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. We all imagine that most breast cancer is genetic. In fact that is not the case, but if you do have close family members who have had cancer – not just breast cancer – then it is possible there is a genetic element.
If your doctor does think you should have genetic testing, the earlier it is done in your treatment the better, as it may affect some of the decisions you will make. For example, you may choose a bilateral mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy if you have malfunctioning BRCA genes.
It’s important to remember that even if many family members have had breast cancer, your genetic tests can come back negative. It is likely that there are many more genetic factors at play that the few that have been proven to have an impact on breast cancer.
Q5: Can you please tell me my next step?
If not all of the information is known at this stage, it will be hard for your doctor to lay out a definitive path for you, so you may feel bombarded and overwhelmed by all the information and options. It is easy to walk away without finding out or remembering exactly what you have to do next.
Instead of asking about the whole process, it is best just to be sure you know exactly what the next step is, so you can plan day by day. As you get more information, you can again keep asking your doctor “what’s next?”.
Q6: Can you please give me the general statistics for my type of breast cancer?
If you are a numbers person like me, then this will become one of your most important tools for decision-making and positive mindset.
I knew very little about breast cancer before my diagnosis, mostly just what was sensationally reported in the media – and we know how much the media try to pull on the heartstrings with emotional stories! The true survival statistics though are probably much higher than you may imagine. For many early breast cancer diagnoses, it’s well into the 90% range. Knowing this for my cancer type made a huge difference for me.
At this early stage your doctor may not want to give you and exact number for your own cancer if not all the information is known, but you can still ask for some general statistics for today’s treatments.
Q7: Who do you recommend for my clinic/hospital/surgeon/oncologist etc
If you are choosing your doctors yourself, or have options for which clinic you attend, ask each doctor you see who they would recommend. You will have a starting point at least, and options for second opinions too.
I was referred to my surgeon by my female GP (or primary care doctor). I’ve been seeing her for a few years, so I valued her opinion. I asked her who she would go to in the same position. She gave me two names – her first pick I used as my surgeon (and I was very happy) and the second name I used for a second opinion.
If your doctor is male, perhaps ask who he would send his wife/daughter to.
Q8: Are there any clinical trials that I may qualify for?
There are always a whole raft of clinical trials taking place for all kinds of breast cancer treatment. If you are interested in learning about them, it is a good idea to ask right at the beginning of your treatment.
You may end up choosing not to take part in any trial after all, but it is good to know if there are any options for you.
Q9: Can you please give me details for any support services that will be useful to me?
Many places have breast cancer support services that can provide all sorts of support. Here in Australia we are put in touch with a Breast Care Nurse. Mine contacted me directly right before my first surgery, but I know that many people find it harder to get in touch with their nurse. I have even heard of some people who are no even aware a service is provided.
In the USA, these nurses are your Nurse Navigators – which I think is a great description. They will often be the first person you go to for any questions, and they can be a great source of useful information about all aspects of breast cancer.
Q10: Can you please give me an indication of costs for my breast cancer treatment?
This one will be much more important to some people than others. I particularly think that those people relying on insurance for medical costs might want to know ballpark figures up front. I know I see many questions on line from those in the US concerned about the cost of treatment.
While we have public health care here in Australia that is free for all, some people have private insurance and will prefer to pay more to have a choice of doctors and hospitals. There could also be some gap payments to be considered that may impact on that decision to go public or private.
Have you read these blog posts yet?
A Beginners Guide to Breast Cancer
Do you Have Dense Breasts? (And Why you Need to Know)
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