Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. After processing the news, you and your doctors will decide on a treatment plan based on the type of breast cancer you’ve been diagnosed with, its stage, and other factors. It’s natural to have a lot questions — not only about your diagnosis and treatment options, but also about things like health insurance, living expenses, and the impact on your professional and personal life.
It may feel like you have to learn a huge amount of information in a short time, but you don’t have to do it on your own. We're here to help you get informed and organized so you can focus on getting the best possible treatment for you. Here are some resources to help get you started.
Your pathology report
After you have a biopsy or surgery to remove the breast cancer, a doctor called a pathologist will examine the removed tissue and run additional tests. The results of all these tests make up your pathology report.
Your pathology report is the key to understanding your diagnosis. By providing a clearer picture of how the breast cancer looks and behaves, the test results in the pathology report will help you and your doctor make appropriate treatment choices for your particular diagnosis.
Planning your treatment
Based on your pathology report and other factors, you and your doctors will work together to make a treatment plan specific to your diagnosis.
Generally, breast cancer treatment plans have two main purposes:
destroy the cancer cells
reduce the risk of the breast cancer coming back in the future (called recurrence)
Depending on your specific diagnosis, your treatment plan may include one or more treatments, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or other therapies.
You may feel a sense of urgency about getting your treatment started right away. But usually there is time to get a second opinion from another doctor. A second opinion may give you peace of mind by confirming your original diagnosis, or another doctor may recommend treatment options you may not have considered. You can get a second opinion at any point in the treatment planning process — even if you’ve already started treatment.
Surgery to remove the cancer is usually — but not always — the first step in a breast cancer treatment plan. If your doctor recommends that you begin your treatment with surgery, you will work with your medical team to decide what type of surgery is appropriate for you:
lumpectomy, which removes the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue
mastectomy, which removes all of the breast tissue
You can also discuss your options for breast reconstruction if that is important to you.
Community Forum: Surgery – Before, During, and After
Depending on your particular diagnosis, the following treatments may be recommended in addition to surgery. These treatments are usually given after surgery (called adjuvant treatment) to reduce your risk of the cancer coming back. But some of these treatments may be given before surgery to shrink the tumor before it is removed (called neoadjuvant treatment). Learn more about:
hormonal therapy (also called endocrine therapy or anti-estrogen therapy)
Talking to your family and friends about breast cancer
Telling your loved ones that you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer can be difficult. Even after you have shared the news, you may find it difficult to communicate openly about how you’re feeling and what you need for support. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to ask for help, answer questions about how you’re doing, or tell well-meaning relatives and friends that you need some time and space for yourself.
Learn more at Talking to Your Family and Friends About Breast Cancer.
If you wish to have children in the future, it’s important to talk with your doctor about fertility issues as you’re planning your treatment. Some treatments for breast cancer can make pregnancy difficult or not possible after treatment ends. A fertility specialist or counselor can talk to you about your options.
Learn more at Fertility Issues.
Your mental and emotional health
Being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer can be tough. You’ve probably heard people on television and social media describe breast cancer treatment as a fight or battle, and people who’ve gone through treatment as survivors and warriors. It’s great if you feel strong and determined as you process your diagnosis and begin treatment. But it’s also OK if you don’t. Everyone’s experience is different, and it’s perfectly valid to feel worried, scared, sad, or any variety of emotions about a breast cancer diagnosis.
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, you should talk to your doctor and consider speaking with a mental health professional. Together, you can discuss ways to protect your mental health, whether it’s with talk therapy, an antidepressant, or holistic approaches like meditation or yoga.
Learn more about managing anxiety and depression.
Depression and Suicidal Thoughts After a Cancer DiagnosisApr. 26, 2019
What Is Mindfulness?May. 24, 2019
Improving your health literacy
Health literacy is your ability to understand and talk about health information. Having good health literacy skills can help you communicate with your doctors and make informed treatment decisions.
Only about 12% of adults in the United States have good health literacy. So, chances are, you can benefit from improving your health literacy skills during the treatment planning process and beyond. There are many simple steps you can take to improve your health literacy, such as asking questions at your appointments, repeating what your doctor tells you in your own words, or bringing a loved one with you to your appointments to help take notes.
Learn more at Improving Your Health Literacy.
Why Health Literacy Is Important for People With Breast CancerJan. 9, 2021
Managing daily life
After the urgency of getting a diagnosis and figuring out a treatment plan, there can still be many things to manage in your daily life: financial questions, maintaining a job, making lifestyle changes, and managing medical records.
Learn more at Managing Life With Breast Cancer.
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