Talking to Your Health Care Provider about Breast Cancer
You have a unique medical history. Therefore, it is essential to talk with your doctor or health care provider about your personal risk factors and/or experience with breast cancer. By talking openly and regularly with your health care provider, you can take an active role in your care.
General Tips for Gathering Information
Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to talk to your health care provider:
- Bring someone else with you. It helps to have another person hear what is said and think of questions to ask.
- Write out your questions ahead of time, so you don't forget them.
- Write down the answers you get, and make sure you understand what you are hearing. Ask for clarification, if necessary.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions or ask where you can find more information about what you are discussing. You have a right to know.
Specific Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider
About Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer
- Based on my medical and family history, and symptoms, am I at risk for developing breast cancer?
- Are other members in my family at risk for developing breast cancer?
- Should I have genetic testing done and if so, when?
About Breast Cancer
- What kind of breast cancer do I have?
- How will you determine whether the disease has spread?
- What lab tests were done on the tumor tissue, and what did they show?
- How will these results affect my treatment decision?
About Treatment Options
- What kinds of treatments are appropriate for me?
- Will I need more than one type of treatment?
- How long will my treatments last?
- What are the potential side effects/complications of the treatments?
- What is the chance that the recommended treatments will cure my breast cancer?
- How will we know whether the treatments have been effective or not?
- While I’m receiving treatment for breast cancer, will I be able to participate in my usual activities?
- Can you help me weigh out the benefit of the treatments versus the effect they may have on my quality of life?
- What kinds of surgery should I consider? Is breast-sparing surgery an option for me?
- What are the risks of surgery?
Do I need to have my lymph nodes removed? If so, how many? Will I be a candidate for sentinel node biopsy?
- If lymph nodes are removed, what can I do to prevent lymphedema?
- Where will the scars be? What will they look like?
- If I decide to have breast reconstruction, how and when can that be done? Can you suggest a plastic surgeon to contact?
Chemotherapy and Hormonal Therapy
- Will I need chemotherapy?
- Will I need hormonal therapy?
- How much will these treatments benefit me?
- What drugs will I be taking?
- What side effects should I expect?
- What are the risks?
- When will my treatments begin and end?
- Will I need radiation treatment? If so, what kind (external or internal)?
- How long will the radiation treatments last?
- How often will I have them?
- What side effects should I expect?
- What are the risks of radiation therapy?
About Lifestyle Changes
- How will I feel after each treatment session or procedure?
- How will my daily activity be affected?
- How long will it take for me to resume my normal activities?
- Will I need a special diet?
- Are there any alternative or complementary therapies I should consider?
- What are the chances that the breast tumor will recur?
- Can you recommend a support group?
- What is my prognosis?
- How will I feel during therapy?
What physiological changes should I expect? How will they affect:
- My fertility and ability to have children
- My sex life
National Cancer Institute
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
American Cancer Society
Last reviewed February 2003 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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