Diagnosis Breast Cancer: What To Ask Your Doctor

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When you get a breast cancer diagnosis, you may feel overwhelmed and full of questions. To get care that best matches your lifestyle and health goals, take the time to get the answers you need, says Joseph See, MD, a hematologist/oncologist.

“You want to make sure you understand your type of cancer, your treatment options, and what to expect in recovery,” says Dr. See.

Before you meet with your doctor or cancer care team, plan to ask lots of questions and write them down. Your breast cancer team wants to help you make the most informed decisions you can. Here are some questions to get you started.

About Your Diagnosis

Take notes about what your doctor and care team share with you, so that you can review them later. Or ask a family member or friend to come to the appointment to take notes for you.

“If you don’t understand what the doctor is saying, speak up and ask to have things explained in another way,” says Dr. See.

  • What type of breast cancer do I have?
  • What is the cancer’s stage? What does that mean? How does the stage affect my treatment options and long-term prognosis?
  • Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?
  • Am I a candidate for genetic testing?
  • Is my cancer hormone receptor (HER2) positive or negative?
  • How do I get a copy of my pathology report? 
  • Will I need other tests before we can decide on treatment?
  • How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
  • What symptoms might I experience?
  • Are there any local support groups I can join?
  • Based on my cancer, what are my chances of survival?

To Help You Make Care Decisions

You and your doctor will discuss your breast cancer treatment options based on the stage and type of your breast cancer, your age and overall health, and your personal preferences. Every treatment option comes with benefits and risks. You should discuss your care options with your family, says Dr. See.

  • Will I need chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, targeted drug therapy, radiation, and/or surgery?
  • What is the success rate of this treatment plan?
  • Should I get a second opinion? How can my case be discussed by a multi-disciplinary care team and/or with specialists through the MD Anderson Cancer Center Network®?
  • How much will my treatments cost? Will my insurance cover my treatment? How much will I have to pay out of pocket?
  • When will my treatments start and what will they involve? How long will they last?
  • Where will my treatments take place? Can someone come with me?
  • What side effects should I expect? How long will they last? 
  • How will treatment affect my daily life?
  • Will I lose my hair?
  • Will my treatments affect my ability to get pregnant or have children? Can I still breastfeed?
  • Will my treatments cause menopause?
  • Can I take other medications during my treatments?
  • Are there any clinical trials I can take part in?

If Your Treatment Includes Surgery

There are different types of surgery to remove breast cancers and reconstruct the breasts.

  • Is breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy) an option for me?
  • What are the positives and negatives of breast-conserving surgery versus mastectomy?
  • What will my breasts look and feel like after surgery? Will I have normal feeling in them?
  • Is breast reconstruction surgery an option? What would it involve? 
  • Can I have reconstruction at the same time as my cancer surgery? Should I speak with a plastic surgeon about reconstruction options?
  • Will you remove my lymph nodes? What side effects might lymph node removal cause?
  • Will treatment hurt? What about scars?
  • How many surgeries like mine have you done?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • Will I have stitches or staples at the surgery site? Will there be a drain tube? How do I care for my surgery site? Will I need someone to help me?
  • Do I need to stop taking medications or supplements before surgery?
  • When should I call your office if I’m having side effects?

During Treatment

You will want to know what to expect and what side effects to look for during your treatments.

  • How will we know if the treatment is working?
  • Is there anything I can do to help manage side effects?
  • What symptoms or side effects should I tell you about right away?
  • Will I need any tests or imaging scans during treatment? How often?
  • How can I reach you on nights, holidays, or weekends?
  • Should I change what I eat during treatment?
  • Are there any limits on my activities? Can I exercise during treatment? 
  • Is there someone I can talk to if I start to feel depressed or overwhelmed?

Your Care After Treatment

Your care continues after your treatments are complete. The bottom line is to ask any questions you have at any time. Remember that anyone on your care team can provide information, says Dr. See, including oncology nurse navigators, nurses, and social workers.

  • What is my outlook after treatment?
  • What things can I do at home to improve my outlook and my quality of life?
  • Will I need a special diet after treatment?
  • Are there any limits on what I can do?
  • Am I at risk for lymphedema? What should I do if I notice swelling in my arm?
  • What other symptoms should I watch for?
  • What kind of exercise should I do now?
  • What type of follow-up care will I need?
  • How often will I need follow-up exams and tests?
  • How will we know if my cancer comes back? What should I watch for?
  • What are my options if my cancer returns?

Your team of caring professionals wants to help you on your cancer journey. In Southwest Ohio, Premier Health is the only certified member of MD Anderson Cancer Network®, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center. MD Anderson Cancer Network physicians review charts from certified physicians at Premier Health to provide feedback for quality improvement and ensure national treatment guidelines are being followed.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.