Important Questions to Ask After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis


According to the Dover Post, there are a few crucial questions to ask your doctor upon being diagnosed with breast cancer. By asking these crucial questions, patients will be able to take a more active role in their treatment and make more informed decisions about their health.

Breast Cancer Explained

A closer look into BRCA-mutated breast cancer will show that BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are the most well-known tumor suppressor genes linked to breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. Those with BRCA-mutated breast cancer have a mutation within these suppressor genes that prevents the BRCA gene from effectively suppressing cancer within the breast. Women that have the BRCA-mutated gene have 5 times the normal risk for developing breast cancer. BRCA-mutations are also linked to the increased risk of developing other cancers like ovarian, colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. BRCA-mutated breast cancer is believed to be inherited in a dominant fashion from either parent. To learn more about the breast cancer mutations, click here.

The Questions to Ask

As for the important questions to ask, there are about 6 of them.

1.What type of breast cancer is it?

To understand how to handle your individual type of cancer, it’s important to figure out what that is. Oncologists will give the facts and from there you can make more informed decisions about your own cancer.

“Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer, followed by invasive lobular carcinoma. Both of these cancers are treated the same way and only differ in the cells of the breast they grow from. . . There are other less-common types of breast cancers that are also treated in a similar manner, with some differences based on the specific type. Ductal carcinoma in situ is a form of breast cancer that cannot invade tissue and cannot spread to other parts of the body. It is very common and very survivable,” says Dr. Arciero, the associate director of surgery at the Glenn Family Breast Center

2. How big is the tumor?

Knowing the size of the tumor is important in understanding how far along the cancer has progressed. Even if the doctor explains what stage the cancer is in, it’s helpful to have a visual sense of how large the tumor is to put it into a more realistic perspective for you.

“Size of the tumor is part of the breast cancer staging system and it is important. . . Initially the tumor size is based on breast imaging findings; however, the surgical specimen provides the pathologic measurement,” said Dr. Parker, an oncologist who specializes in breast surgery.

3. What stage is the cancer?

Breast cancer staging can be somewhat confusing, but it’s important to know what your individual prognosis will be. According to Dr. Parker, cancer staging can fall into three categories. First is the T stage, also known as the tumor size. Second is the N stage, also known as lymph-node status. Finally, there is the M stage, also known as metastasis.

To elaborate, Dr. Arciero explains, “Breast cancer stage is based on the size of the tumor, whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.”

The more commonly known stages for breast cancer include Stages I and II (earlier stage), Stage III (more advanced), and finally Stage IV (metastatic breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body).

4. What are the receptors for my breast cancer?

A little less well known of a question to ask involves receptors. Basically, receptors are those components in the body that nourish and foster the growth of cancer. For breast cancer, the three most frequently found and tested receptors are progesterone (PR), estrogen (ER), and the human epidermal growth factor (HER2), according to Dr. Arciero.

“The ER and PR are considered the hormone receptors. If they are positive, the cancer will respond to anti-hormone therapy. The HER2 receptor is positive in about 25 percent of cancers, and it means that the tumor will respond to antibody therapy,” said Arciero. As for triple-negative cancers, those are the least common but also the most aggressive type. These, Arciero explains, typically always require chemotherapy to treat.

So this turns out to be a great question to ask, and will give you a better understanding of how doctors will continue to treat your cancer.

5. What is the grade of the cancer, and what does that mean?

The grade will give you a closer look at the rate cancer is spreading within your body. Knowing this will simply give you a better insight into your own cancer.

“Grade is a reflection of how fast a cancer cell divides. The higher the grade, the more aggressive the cancer may be. It should not be confused with stage, though,” said Arciero.

6. Will I die of this cancer?

Here’s the good news. Dr. Arciero says, “Probably not. The majority of breast cancers in the United States are either Stage 0 or Stage I.”

Depending on the stage of breast cancer, survival outlook is pretty optimistic. Though all the questions are important, this one is probably the most consequential.

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