The moment you are told to have breast cancer, numerous questions and concerns might strike your head. With the help of the internet and Google, you probably might learn about the disease, treatment options available and try to apply this information to your condition. Although this information is very helpful to acquire generalised knowledge about breast cancer, your doctor is the best and most reliable person to explain your condition completely. But you need to be prepared with a set of questions to ask your health professional. Here are few of them you should ideally start with –
What type of breast cancer do I suffer from?
Breast cancer is not the same in every woman. Although there are many forms, it is classified into two broad categories – invasive a (malignant form) and non-invasive a (benign form). The non-invasive breast cancer, also known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), doesn’t spread to various parts of the body i.e.; it is restricted to the milk ducts in the breast. Whereas depending upon the origin of cancer, invasive breast cancer is mainly divided into infiltrating ductal carcinomas (they start in the milk ducts and proliferate in the breast tissue), invasive lobular carcinomas (they originate in the milk-producing glands known as lobules and spreads to tissue) and other rare types of breast cancer originate in the connective tissue of breasts and nipple.
What is the stage of my cancer?
Depending upon the severity of the condition, tumor size and the extent of cancer progression; breast cancer falls under five stages – 0 to IV. Cancer staging is very important as it helps your doctor to plan the treatment, determine its prognosis and your eligibility to undergo clinical trials.
Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or any other organs?
It is very vital to know whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body (including the immune system), to determine the severity of the disease. In case the breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, your doctor might recommend specified treatment options like chemotherapy or change your treatment plan accordingly.
Do I need to undergo any other tests?
Although, after careful analysis and proper diagnosis, your doctor will confirm about breast cancer, there are few tests recommended to initiate the treatment plan. This includes determination of estrogen and progesterone status and HER-2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2).
Can my condition be treated with the help of drugs only? Till when will I have to be on those medications?
Ask your doctor whether your breast cancer can be treated with the help of chemotherapy and also the course of medications like do you need to take them for rest of your life or how long do you need to them. Although most cases can be effectively dealt with chemotherapy, there are few invasive types that require other treatment processes for better results.
Do I need to undergo radiation therapy?
Radiation treatment is generally recommended for breast patients who underwent a lumpectomy (surgical removal of the tumor). It is also advised for people considered at high-risk of breast cancer, have a tumor larger than five cm in size and those with more than four cancerous lymph nodes.
Will I need to undergo surgery?
The need to undergo surgery may vary from patient to patient and is dependent on the stage of the cancer, tumor size, its location and size of the breast. There are also few surgical options for breast cancer treatment that include mastectomy, breast-conserving surgery (along with radiation), etc.
Are there any health complications or side-effects of these treatment options?
You should ask your doctor about the side-effects of the drugs used to treat breast cancer. Also, few patients do experience weight loss, hair loss and some common health complications after radiation and chemotherapy, so it’s better to ask your doctor about these health issues before hand.
Can I participate in clinical trials?
Although it is up to the patient to decide for themselves whether to take part in clinical trials or not, your doctor can help you out in weighing the risk and benefits associated with it. As not all breast cancer patients can undergo clinical trials, so it’s better to ask your doctor at the first meeting itself to be on the safer side.
What will be the overall approximate cost of the treatment?
We all know that cancer is a dreadful clinical condition and that it involves a lot of financial backup to get treated for it. But with latest advances in the field of medicine and better therapeutic approached dealing with breast cancer has been quite feasible. The cost of the treatment is dependent on the severity of the disease, type of treatment option used and patient’s improvement to the treatment employed.