What should you ask your cancer care team about breast cancer?
The doctors, nurses, and other members of your cancer care team are the best source of information about your cancer. They will explain your diagnosis, treatment options, and progress. But not all women want the same amount of information or have the same questions. You can take an active role in your care by learning about your cancer and its treatment and by asking questions.
Here are some questions that you can use to help you better understand your cancer and your treatment options. Don’t be afraid to take notes and tell the doctors or nurses when you don’t understand what they’re saying. You might want to bring another person with you when you see your doctors, and/or ask if it’s OK to record your conversation to help you remember what was said.
Not all of these questions will apply to you, but they should help get you started.
When you’re told you have breast cancer
- Exactly what type of breast cancer do I have?
- How big is the cancer? Where exactly is it?
- Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?
- What’s the stage of the cancer? What does that mean?
- Will I need any other tests before we can decide on treatment?
- Do I need to see any other doctors or health professionals?
- What is the hormone receptor status of my cancer? What does this mean?
- What is the HER2 status of my cancer? What does this mean?
- How do these factors affect my treatment options and long-term outlook (prognosis)?
- What are my chances of survival, based on my cancer as you see it?
- Should I think about genetic testing? What would the pros and cons of testing be?
- How do I get a copy of my pathology report?
- If I’m concerned about the costs and insurance coverage for my diagnosis and treatment, who can help me?
When deciding on a treatment plan
- How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
- Should I get a second opinion? How do I do that?
- What are my treatment choices?
- What treatment do you recommend and why?
- Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial?
- What would the goal of the treatment be?
- How soon do I need to start treatment?
- How long will treatment last? What will it be like? Where will it be done?
- Will any of the treatment be done by other doctors?
- What should I do to get ready for treatment?
- What risks and side effects should I expect?
- What can I do to reduce the side effects of the treatment?
- Should I change what I eat or make other lifestyle changes?
- How will treatment affect my daily activities?
- Will I be able to work during treatment?
- Will I lose my hair? If so, what can I do about it?
- Will I go through menopause as a result of the treatment? Will I be able to have children after treatment? Would I be able to breastfeed?
- What are the chances the cancer will come back after this treatment?
- What would we do if the treatment doesn’t work or if the cancer comes back?
If you need surgery
- Is breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) an option for me? Why or why not?
- What are the pros and cons of breast-conserving surgery versus mastectomy?
- How many surgeries like mine have you done?
- Will you have to take out lymph nodes? If so, would you advise a sentinel lymph node biopsy? Why or why not?
- What side effects might lymph node removal cause?
- Will I need blood transfusions?
- How long will I be in the hospital?
- Will I have stitches or staples at the surgery site? Will there be a drain (tube) coming out of the site?
- How do I care for the surgery site? Will I need someone to help me?
- What will my breasts look and feel like after my treatment? Will I have normal feeling in them?
- What will the scar look like?
- Is breast reconstruction surgery an option if I want it? What would it involve in my case?
- Can I have reconstruction at the same time as the surgery to remove the cancer? What are the pros and cons of having it done right away or waiting until later?
- What types of reconstruction might be options for me?
- Should I speak with a plastic surgeon about reconstruction options?
- Will I need a breast form (prosthesis), and if so, where can I get one?
- Do I need to stop taking any medications or supplements before surgery?
- When will I need to return for a follow-up visit?
- When should I call your office if I’m having side effects?
Once treatment begins, you’ll need to know what to expect and what to look for. Not all of these questions may apply to you, but asking the ones that do may be helpful.
- 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?
- How can I reach you on nights, holidays, or weekends?
- Do I need to change what I eat during treatment?
- Are there any limits on what I can do?
- What kind of exercise should I do, and how often?
- Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or distressed?
- Will I need special tests, such as imaging scans or blood tests? How often?
- Do I need a special diet after treatment?
- Are there any limits on what I can do?
- Am I at risk for lymphedema?
- What can I do to reduce my risk for lymphedema?
- What should I do if I notice swelling?
- What other symptoms should I watch for?
- What kind of exercise should I do now?
- What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?
- How often will I need to have follow-up exams and imaging tests?
- Will I need any blood tests?
- How will we know if the cancer has come back? What should I watch for?
- What would my options be if the cancer comes back?
Be sure to write down any other questions you think of. For instance, you might want specific information about recovery times so that you can plan your work schedule. Or you may want to ask about nearby or online support groups where you can talk with other women going through similar situations.