It’s important to be able to have frank, open discussions with your cancer care team. They want to answer all of your questions so that you can make informed treatment and life decisions.
Here are some questions that you can use to help 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 doctor and have them take notes to help you remember what was said.
Not all of these questions will apply to you, but they should help get you started. Be sure to write down some questions of your own. For instance, you might want more information about recovery times or you may want to ask about nearby or online support groups where you can talk with other women going through similar situations. You may also want to ask if you qualify for any clinical trials.
Keep in mind that doctors aren’t the only ones who can give you information. Other health care professionals, such as nurses and social workers, can answer some of your questions. To find out more about speaking with your health care team, see The Doctor-Patient Relationship.
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 is the stage of my cancer? What does it 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?
- What is the grade 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 are my testing options? Should I take a home-based genetic test? What would be the reasons for and against testing?
- How do I get a copy of my pathology report?
- If I’m worried 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? Will getting a second opinion delay my treatment and can that affect my outcome?
- 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?
- Should my biopsy tissue be sent for a gene expression test to help decide if chemotherapy might be helpful for me?
- Are there other molecular or protein tests that need to be done on my cancer tissue to help decide my treatment options?
- What should I do to get ready for treatment?
- What risks or side effects are there to the treatments you suggest? Are there things I can do to reduce these side effects?
- How will treatment affect my daily activities? Can I still work fulltime?
- 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?
- Do I have time to freeze my eggs before starting treatment? What are my options?
- What are the chances the cancer will come back (recur) after this treatment?
- What would we do if the treatment doesn’t work or if the cancer comes back?
- What if I have transportation problems getting to and from treatment?
If you need surgery
- Is breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) an option for me? Why or why not?
- What are the positive and negative sides 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?
- 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 surgery? 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 mean in my case?
- Can I have reconstruction at the same time as the surgery to remove the cancer? What are the reasons for and against having it done right away or waiting until later?
- What types of reconstruction might be options for me?
- Could you recommend a plastic surgeon I could speak to 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 should I call your office if I’m having side effects or concerns?
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?
- Will I need to change what I eat during treatment?
- Are there any limits on what I can do?
- Can I exercise during treatment? If so, 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 during treatment? If so, how often?
- Will 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 in my arm?
- 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, blood tests, or imaging tests?
- How will we know if the cancer has come back? What should I watch for?
- What will my options be if the cancer comes back?