Breast Cancer Questions to ask Your Doctor

Published 12/11/12


Tips on how to prepare for your initial appointments with your surgeon and oncologist after a breast cancer diagnosis.


Hi. My name is PJ Hamel and I'm a breast cancer survivor. Today I'd like to give you some tips on how to prepare for your initial appointments with your surgeon and oncologist. You'll be asked to make many difficult decisions, life and death decisions, during your breast cancer treatment. You'll probably feel completely unqualified to make these decisions. You are not alone. We all feel this way and wish the doctor would just tell us what to do, but that won't happen. So be prepared to listen carefully to what the doctor says, ask questions, and then make a thoughtful decision. Chances are things will turn out fine. And, by the way, never look back. Second guessing is a waste of time. You'll be meeting with a number of different doctors in the coming days. Typically, a woman will meet with a breast surgeon or surgical oncologist first. This doctor will remove the tumor from your breast, performing a lumpectomy which removes part of the breast, or a mastectomy which removes it all. Next you'll meet with your oncologist. This doctor will develop a treatment plan specific to your cancer then oversee it. You'll be meeting with this doctor regularly for years, so make sure your oncologist is someone you like and trust. If not, find another doctor sooner rather than later. One of the best things you can do for yourself as you go through this series of doctor's appointments is to bring someone with you to every office visit. A cancer diagnosis is devastating emotionally. It takes a while to recover your mental equilibrium. At the same time, you have to absorb a lot of complicated information about your treatment and diagnosis very quickly. It's a huge benefit to have a friend or family member at your side to take notes, help you organize your thoughts and questions, and to be a sounding board later on, as you make these difficult decisions. When you meet with your surgeon, she'll go over what type of surgery you might have. A lumpectomy removes only the tumor and a small part of the tissue surrounding it. This surgery is best for small tumors that haven't spread. A mastectomy removes your entire breast, and is recommended for larger tumors or multiple tumors. In addition, if you have a mastectomy, you'll be asked to decide if you want a breast reconstruction, and shown the various options, which include saline or silicone implants, and different ways to rebuild your breast using your own body tissue. Once you've been through surgery, you'll meet with your oncologist. He'll have the results of your pathology report, which tells him everything he needs to know about your particular cancer. He'll take this information and develop a treatment plan, which might include radiation, chemotherapy, and/or long-term drugs. He'll give you statistics detailing how likely your cancer is to come back, depending on which treatment options you choose. All treatments have side effects, and you'll need to balance the possibility of serious or long-term side effects with your risk of recurrence. As I said, you'll need to make some tough decisions. Cancer definitely isn't for sissies. And that's how I see it as a breast cancer survivor, but I'd also recommend you reach out to your doctor for more details, or go to Google and type in breast cancer questions to ask your doctor for more information. Thanks for watching.

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