What to Know If You’re Newly Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
What’s the First Thing You Need to Do After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis?
Getting diagnosed with breast cancer is often a shock to you and your family. Your mind may be wondering what the next steps will be and what you should expect in the coming months.
Choosing a cancer care team that you’re comfortable with will go a long way in helping you feel confident in your treatment plan.
What Kind of Doctor Should I See?
After a diagnosis, it’s important to meet with a few different physicians. A medical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer will be one of the primary caregivers throughout your entire treatment process.
The medical oncologist works closely with the breast cancer surgeon and radiation oncology team that you choose. Together they will create a plan that includes treatments and timing that is expected to work best for you based on the stage and type of breast cancer.
The radiation oncologist is a team member you can also choose. Because radiation therapy is required about 5 days a week for several weeks, it’s important to have a convenient location for your treatments. We have several different radiation oncologists that you can work with located in the Snellville, Conyers, Decatur, Covington, Blairsville, and Lawrenceville areas. While you will work most closely with your oncologist, other physicians or specialists will help you with your treatment.
What Should I Expect at My First Oncology Appointment?
At your first oncology appointment, you’re most likely going to meet with the medical oncologist. They’re going to talk about the type of cancer, stage, and expected treatment plan.
Try to brainstorm any questions you may have before the appointment, or have your loved ones be involved. It may be a lot of information to take in, so use your support system. Your oncologist may also want to proceed with more detailed tests or details about your medical history.
How Does the Type of Breast Cancer Impact Treatment?
Although it seems that breast cancer may fall under one category, there are several types of breast cancer. Having a general overview of each type and commonly used terms can help you understand some of the terms the oncologists will use when discussing a treatment plan.
A carcinoma is a tumor that starts in the lining of the organs and tissues and is the most common type of breast cancer.
Other types include:
Ductal or lobular carcinoma: Cancers that form in the breast in the milk ducts or the gland in the breast.
In situ: A form of pre-cancer that has not spread into the rest of the surrounding breast tissue. It begins in the milk duct.
Invasive breast cancer: Invasive refers to breast cancers that have spread into other parts of the breast and surrounding tissue. It may also be referred to as ‘infiltrating.’
To read more on types of breast cancer and their categories, visit our types of breast cancer page.
There may also be a discussion of hormone receptors such as estrogen and progesterone or HER2 expression. These impact the type of treatments that are most likely to work for you.
When Will the Stage Be Determined?
The stage plays an important role in which treatments are needed and in which order. The stage is determined by the location of cancer (if it is in one breast, both, or in surrounding tissues), the size, and if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes.
The stages of breast cancer range from Stage 0 to Stage IV.
Stage 0 means it is non-invasive cancer that has not spread from the initial site.
Stage 1 means the breast cancer is localized, relatively small and has not spread to lymph nodes. The stages progress all the way to stage IV which is also referred to as invasive, or metastatic, breast cancer. In stage IV, the cancer has spread outside of the breast tissue to other areas of the body.
Which Breast Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?
Treatments for your breast cancer will depend on the stage of your cancer, the type, your age, and any other risk factors you may have. There are several different treatment options, and some may be used together. Here is a general overview of common breast cancer treatments:
Surgery - Surgery is meant to remove cancerous cells. There are two basic types of breast cancer surgery.
Lumpectomy - This surgery aims to retain as much of the healthy breast tissue as possible and only remove cancerous cells.
Mastectomy - This surgical approach removes all of the breast tissue to ensure that the cancerous cells have been removed. Some women may also opt for a double mastectomy, in which the tissue from both breasts is removed.
The best surgical approach is decided upon together with the breast cancer surgeon. Reconstructive surgery, if desired, should also be discussed with the surgeon during your consultation.
Radiation Therapy - External beam radiation is often used after a lumpectomy to kill any remaining cancerous cells in the breast. The timing and amount of radiation needed is based on where the cancer is located and whether it needs to be given before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor before it’s removed.
Radiation therapy is given 5 days a week for 4-8 weeks. It’s important that you choose a team that’s convenient for you and who you feel comfortable talking with.
Medical Oncology Treatments - Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy are given, usually through an IV, to the patient when cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, or as an approach to target specific types of cells or receptors on cancer cells so that they can’t reproduce.
For more information, look at our breast cancer treatment page for a more comprehensive overview.
Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer Conveniently Located in the Atlanta Area
Finding a care team that can help you along your breast cancer journey with a compassionate attitude is one of the most important aspects of your healing process. We hope you will take time to evaluate each of the physicians who will be a part of your care team, and request second opinions to be sure you’re confident in your selections.
For more information about a consultation for breast cancer treatment contact our Nurse Navigator.