Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Then What?
Whether you or a friend have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing the next steps and understanding the process is essential in the coping process. Meghan McWhirter, RN and patient navigator in the breast clinic at IU Health West Hospital, shares what to expect after receiving a diagnosis.
Once the diagnosis has been made, your doctor works to determine the extent or stage of the breast cancer. This stage helps establish the best treatment options available. Although you have a diagnosis, some information may not be available until after surgery. Tests used to determine the stage of breast cancer include bone scans, CT scans, PET scans, MRIs, mammograms and blood tests.
Breast cancer stages range from stage zero to stage four. Stage zero indicates that the cancer is noninvasive or within the milk ducts, while stage four shows that it has spread to other parts of the body.
After a diagnosis has been determined, the patient is referred to a surgical oncologist who will recommend treatment options, which may lead to a referral with a radiologist, medical oncologist or other specialists. The patient’s goals, along with the side effects of treatment, will help determine the patient’s treatment decision.
Knowing the stage of cancer and what the oncologist recommends, treatment may include surgery, proton beam radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy drugs or immunotherapy.
A new cancer diagnosis can change your life and the lives of those around you. To help patients and loved ones feel in control, McWhirter recommends patients gather information about the diagnosis from their care team and credible websites, such as the American Cancer Society.
“Write questions down in advance of appointments and bring someone with you so that someone else can help you listen to and digest information,” she says.
Lastly, McWhirter advises patients to assemble a solid support team and to ask for help when needed. Anxiety and depression are not uncommon when dealing with cancer, and a solid support system is critical and will help with finding an outlet for stress.