You’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now what?
As a person newly diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s understandable that you may have questions about what you will face in the days, weeks, and months ahead. At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), our goal is to help you address some of the questions head-on, so you can properly prepare for your first oncology appointment. We hope this guide will make your path to breast cancer treatment a bit smoother.
Keep a Notebook
After a breast cancer diagnosis, a lot of information will be coming your way from your oncologist— much of which can be hard to remember. To stay organized, we suggest getting a notebook to keep a record of important information. This can include information such as how you’re feeling and what medicines or supplements you’re taking, to any questions, thoughts, or observations you have regarding appointments and procedures. Try to put a date on everything you write down to keep your thoughts and notes organized.
If audio recordings on your phone work better for you, that’s fine too. Just pick one method and commit to using it regularly. Having information well documented can help keep the lines of communication open between you and your doctors.
Here are a few suggestions of things to keep in mind when asking about your breast cancer:
- Information about any genetic connection your family members may need to consider
- Your lifestyle (diet, exercise, rest, stress)
- What to expect during your future appointments
- Diet and nutrition recommendations. Are there any natural supplements I can or can’t take?
- Who is involved in the cancer care team?
- What are my breast cancer treatment options, goals, and side effects?
- Are there any activities to avoid? How about any that you should add to your routine?
- Are clinical trials an option?
- Is there access to supportive care?
- Is there any suspected lymph node involvement?
- What time frame do I have to make treatment decisions?
Something else you might consider is bringing along a family member or friend to appointments to help ask questions and take notes. Having an extra set of ears may help you recall details later on.
What Kind of Doctor Should I See?
Typically, patients will move from their PCP (primary care physician) or gynecologist to a medical oncologist. Oncology is the study of cancer, therefore, an oncologist is a doctor who is medically trained to lead the care for patients after a cancer diagnosis. As a patient of Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, you will have access to our breast cancer specialists who can be seen at any of our convenient locations.
Your RMCC oncologist will take time to learn about your specific diagnosis and will consult with your care team to develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Your care team will include several specialists, including:
- Radiation oncologist
- Breast cancer surgeon, with a specialty in oncoplastic
- Plastic surgeon, if needed
- Other cancer care specialists who can assist with treating potential side effects caused by breast cancer treatments
While surgery may seem like the logical first step, some cases can benefit from a different approach. Visiting with the medical oncologist first will help determine the best treatment for your particular breast cancer diagnosis.
What Kind of Breast Cancer do I Have?
Breast cancer can begin in different areas of the breast— the ducts, the lobules, and sometimes, the tissue in between. Some genes, and the proteins they make, play a role in how breast cancer behaves and how it might respond to treatment. The human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, also sometimes called HER2/neu or ErbB2, is one such gene. Your HER2 status and hormone receptors are what we will use to determine your breast cancer type and the type of treatment you may receive.
Approximately 70% of breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive. The percentage is even higher among older women. Your RMCC oncologist will perform the tests and then explain how the results may affect your treatment plan. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
What is the Extent of My Breast Cancer?
The TNM staging system is a classification system developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer for describing the extent of disease progression in cancer patients. Breast cancer stages are typically expressed as a number on a scale of 0 through IV–with stage 0 representing contained, non-invasive cancers and stage IV representing cancers that have spread. The results of the biopsy and images taken will allow your oncologist to determine the extent of your breast cancer.
Which Breast Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?
There are several treatment options available for breast cancer, which will be based on a variety of factors including the type, stage of your breast cancer, and age. Breast cancer treatment options include:
Your team at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers will evaluate your individual situation and recommend the most effective treatment options.
What About Breast Cancer Clinical Trials?
As a member of US Oncology Research, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers can provide access to the latest clinical trials throughout Colorado. These breast cancer clinical trials help uncover various new treatment options, including new breast cancer treatments, and give many patients the opportunity to receive newly developed therapies or investigational drugs not yet available outside the study.
Talk to your oncologist to find out if you are right for one of our available breast cancer trials.
Your First Oncology Appointment
The first oncology appointment is often the most difficult one, which is why we highly recommend that you take a relative or friend with you as a support partner. Not only will they be there to provide emotional support, they can listen and help take notes on all the information you will be receiving. For more information about your first visit with a Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers oncologist, visit our web page for New Patients.
After Breast Cancer Treatment
Following breast cancer treatment, your doctors will want to monitor you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. These visits give your doctor an opportunity to address your questions and concerns, look for treatment-related side effects, and discuss other follow-up treatments that may be necessary, such as hormone therapy or reconstructive surgery. Remember to bring your notebook (or another documentation method) and a support partner to as many visits as possible.
Should I Get a Second Opinion?
Feeling confident about your breast cancer diagnosis is extremely important, which is why many patients choose to get a second opinion before beginning a specific treatment plan. At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, our physicians provide many second opinions on both breast cancer diagnosis and treatment options. Many insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment, but it is still a good idea to contact your insurance provider for verification of coverage.
You are Not Alone
Through this difficult time, the physicians at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers are here to help you every step of the way, including providing you with a binder with more helpful tips and what to expect during their breast cancer journey. There are also various community resources that may help you too.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers has several convenient locations scattered across the state of Colorado, including Colorado Springs, Boulder, and the Denver areas. Please contact us today to request an appointment.