Breast Cancer: Questions for your Oncologist, Part 2
Summary: Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a life-altering moment, filled with more questions and worry than answers. Off the bat, know which questions you need to have answered to be on your best whole-healing path. Here you can read the top reported questions given by numerous oncologists across the United States.
After your initial diagnosis and questions with your doctor, you might find that you have more in-depth questions for your new oncologists, who will be taking on your case and care through your treatment. Asking these questions of your oncologist will help you to feel more informed about your case and the decisions you will be making about your own care. Asking your questions will also help to open communication between you and your new medical care team, which is vital to your care and whole-self healing.
Many oncologists and surgeons agree that there are certain standards and common questions that many patients ask. These are some of those questions.
What kind of breast cancer do I have?
There are two types of breast cancer that are the most common, and most often diagnosed. The first type is called invasive lobular carcinoma. This disease counts for one in ten breast cancers and begins in the lobules, or the glands in the breast that make milk. The second type is invasive ductal carcinoma which occurs in approximately eight of ten breast cancer cases. This cancer begins in the milk ducts, which are tubes that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple.
What does ‘cancer stage’ mean? Do I need to know this information?
The stage of your cancer helps to describe the severity or extent of your cancer. Your medical care team will do testing to help confirm your stage, which will in turn help them to create a treatment plan best suited for your case. Breast cancer is diagnosed in stage 1 or stage 2, which is considered early stage. Stages 3 and 4 are considered advanced cancer standing.
Is my cancer invasive or noninvasive?
Any tumor inside of your body can be either malignant or benign. Benign breast tumors are not life-threatening and do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant cancers are tumors that directly impact your health and can spread to other areas of the body. These tumors grow into surrounding tissue is considered invasive. Invasive cancers are most likely to spread to other parts of the body than non-invasive tumors. Non-invasive breast cancer cells do remain in a certain area of the breast without moving to any other area, lobule or duct.
What size is my tumor? Does this matter?
The treatment options available for your cancer will depend on the stage, size and location of your cancer. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, this will add another layer for treatment. Larger tumors are most likely lymph node-positive, which means that the axillary lymph nodes contain cancer. Sentinel node biopsy is the most common way to determine whether cancer cells have spread beyond the breast.
A few people told me I should get a second opinion. Do I need to do this?
A second opinion can confirm your original diagnosis and treatment plan and can give you more information about the type and stage of your breast cancer. While a second opinion is not necessary, it may help you to feel more secure in your original diagnosis and treatment plan. In other cases, a second opinion has been able to disprove the first diagnosis and diagnose the correct issue. If you are uncomfortable with your diagnosis or medical care team, do not hesitate to reach out for a second opinion.
How much experience do you have with treating my type and stage of breast cancer?
Those oncologists who are experienced in treating cancers, not only breast, are typically the best informed and equipped to explain and provide a full range of treatment options. These doctors will know the best and most up-to-date medications and treatments available for your case. You should always feel comfortable discussing and talking with your doctor about your medical care and treatment.
Has my cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?
When cancer cells move away from a tumor, they may travel through the bloodstream to distant areas or organs and begin to grow. If, when traveling, these cells end up in your lymph nodes, there they will remain. Your doctor may perform a biopsy to check your lymph nodes for the presence of these cells which will determine your lymph node status. If your cancer has spread to another part of the body, it has metastasized during metastasis. In most cases, breast cancer metastasizes primarily into the lungs, liver, brain, and regional lymph nodes and bone.
Will HER2 tests be performed on my tissue samples?
Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 growth signal receptors may be present in your breast cancer cells. Nearly twenty-five percent of breast cancers are HER2-positive, meaning that the cancer cells make too much of a protein called HER2/neu, which signifies a more aggressive cancer. If your cancer is HER2 positive, this will help doctors better treat your cancer.
Should I consider a clinical trial? I have heard patients can participate if they qualify.
Cancer treatments have improved tremendously over the years, thanks to advances made in medical care because of those patients who have been willing to participate in studies exploring new avenues of treatment, drug protocols, and other approaches. These clinical trials may offer patients new treatment options that may have otherwise remained unavailable. Speak with your doctor to find out which clinical trials you might qualify for, or benefit from.
Do I need genetic testing?
Genetic testing could benefit in showing you if your cancer resulted from an inherited gene mutation. Genetic counseling can help you better understand the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing in some situations. A doctor, genetic counselor, or other health care professional trained in genetics may also be able to help you better understand your personal results. With the advances in genetic testing, many more links, genes connections and verified information, you can learn much about your chemical and physical makeup in regard to your DNA and genes. This can be very beneficial to those facing cancer and other life-long disease to find out what the root cause may be.
After meeting with your doctor and oncologist, you will then meet with your surgeons. Read on to part three for those important questions to know and understand what is happening with your cancer surgery!