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Treating Breast Cancer Early

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Breast Cancer Diagnosis: What You Need to Know for Your Oncologist Appointment

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Healthgrades Editorial Staff on January 25, 2020
  • woman holding paper and looking at computer
    Learn how to navigate your diagnosis and your treatment options.
    You’ve been through the diagnostic imaging and the biopsy process. The pathology report says it’s breast cancer. Your doctor has gone over the report with you and given you the name of a breast cancer specialist, oncologist, or surgeon. What next? What questions should you ask? What resources do you need? This is what you can expect at your first oncology appointment.
  • couple receiving advice
    1. Take your time with your diagnosis.
    There’s usually no rush to start treatment right away, so start educating yourself and be prepared. Ask a close friend or family member to learn with you, attend your appointments, and be your advocate. Having a second set of ears and another point of view can be invaluable, especially when you are under the stress of dealing with your new diagnosis. 
  • African American woman on computer at home
    2. Inform yourself with the basic facts.
    It’s likely you know something about your breast cancer from the radiologist or pathology reports. Familiarize yourself with some basic terminology so you aren’t lost during your appointment. Do you know what type of cancer you have? Do you know the receptor status or HER2 status? Knowing what these things mean can help you get the most out of your first oncology appointment.
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  • female therapist in office talking to young patient
    3. Ask about patient navigators.
    Cancer centers often have Patient Navigator or Decision Services programs. These programs have trained staff to work with you before your oncology appointment. The staff member will help you identify your concerns and questions. What’s more, these programs may also offer recording services during your appointment. That way you have an audio record of your questions and the doctor’s answers. These services are usually free of charge.
  • anemia
    4. Gather your personal information.
    Having your personal information in order can help your appointment run smoothly. You may receive a new patient questionnaire to help you get organized. It may ask for detailed medical history information, family history, health insurance, and access to pathology or other results. Be sure to call your insurance company yourself to make sure you are following your coverage process. It’s also a good idea to make copies of all your records and keep them together.
  • Woman writing in journal
    5. Make a list of questions.
    Preparing a list of questions before your appointment can help you remember everything you want to ask. Knowing the type of cancer you have and having your biopsy results can help you focus your questions. Your goal is to gather enough information to help make an informed, confident treatment decision. So don’t hesitate to ask if it’s important to you. There is no question too small when you’re making such an important decision. 
  • Male doctor talking to couple in waiting room
    6. Ask questions about your tumor.
    Even if you already have some information about your tumor, it’s good to verify it with your oncologist: What kind of cancer is it? What is its hormone receptor status? What is its HER2 receptor status? What stage is it? What makes it that stage? What does that stage mean for my prognosis? Ask your doctor to write this information down and keep it with you for reference. You can also request a copy of the pathology report with this information.
  • Female patient listening to doctor
    7. Ask questions about your treatment.
    Stay open-minded about treatment options and remember that treatments are highly individualized. The right treatment for someone else, even with the same cancer, may not be right for you: What are my treatment options? What do you recommend for me and why? If surgery is an option, am I a candidate for breast-conserving surgery? Will I need more tests before surgery? Will I need other forms of treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy? What are the risks of each treatment?
  • Female doctor discussing with a patient
    8. Ask questions about your prognosis.
    The stage of your cancer will help guide your treatment decisions and give you information about your prognosis. Be sure you understand issues surrounding your prognosis: What are my chances of recovering from treatment? What are the chances of my cancer returning? Am I at risk for other cancers? Are my children at increased risk?
  • Diverse group of women raising money for breast cancer research
    9. Ask questions about your well-being and support groups.
    Breast cancer isn’t just physical. It can also be a challenge emotionally and mentally. Know what to expect and where to get support. How can I prepare for treatment? Are there survivors I can meet? How will my breasts look and feel after treatment? What does breast reconstruction look and feel like? Will I lose my hair? How can I deal with hair loss? How will treatment affect my reproductive status? Where can I find a support group? 
  • Breast cancer doctor and patient
    10. Consider getting a second opinion.
    Getting a second opinion is not necessarily a judgment of your doctor. They are more about giving you information. Second opinions can validate your original plan and reinforce your confidence in your first doctor. They can give you more insight into your cancer and your treatment options. They may also lead you to a doctor who better meets your needs. Providers who put their patients’ interest first should never discourage a second opinion. Just check with your insurance company first.
  • smiling-confidant-woman
    The more you know, the more confident you'll be to move forward.
    Getting organized and learning about breast cancer can help you get the most out of your first oncology appointment. Making treatment decisions can be stressful, so find a close friend or family member to help with the process. Use the resources at your cancer center to prepare for your appointment. Then, make a list of your questions. No concern is too small and no question is silly to ask. Empower yourself with the knowledge you need to move forward confidently.
Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know for Your Oncologist Appt
  1. How is breast cancer diagnosed? American Cancer Society.
  2. Breast Cancer Decision Services. University of California at San Francisco.
  3. Breast Cancer Appointment Information. University of California at San Francisco.
  4. Getting Quality Care. Susan G Komen.
  5. Talking With Your Doctor. Susan G Komen.
  6. When Breast Cancer is Diagnosed. Susan G Komen.
  7. Treatment Choices. Susan G Komen.
  8. What are some questions I can ask my doctor about breast cancer? American Cancer Society.
  9. Getting a Second Opinion. Susan G Komen.

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Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 25
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.