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. Sarah Dutkevitch, RN and patient navigator in the breast clinic at IU Health North 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. The stage helps determine the best treatment options available. Although you may receive a diagnosis, some information may not be available until after surgery. Tests used to determine the stage of breast cancer may include ultrasounds or MRIs. In some cases, further imaging may be necessary to help determine if the cancer has moved from the breast or lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
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.
Most breast cancers involve surgery as part of the treatment plan. After a diagnosis has been determined, you typically meet with a surgeon who will discuss recommended treatment options. The patient’s goals, along with the side effects of treatment, will help determine the patient’s treatment recommendations.
According to the stage of cancer and recommendations, treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, 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, Dutkevitch recommends patients gather information about the diagnosis from their health care team and credible websites, such as the American Cancer Society.
“It is very helpful to write down questions before your appointments,” she suggests. “And bring someone with you to be a second set of ears. It can be overwhelming to get a diagnosis of cancer and hard to remember all this new information.”
Lastly, Dutkevitch advises patients to “build your village.” It is very helpful to have 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.