Breast cancer treatment is a partnership between the patient and several types of doctors. Patients should first make sure that they see a medical oncologist, who designs an overall treatment program. Patients should learn as much as possible about treatment options; don’t be afraid to ask questions, take notes, employ tape recorders or ask for appropriate printed materials. Additionally, understand the stage of the breast cancer, which can drastically alter treatment. Keeping these guidelines in mind, Dr. Kathy S. Albain at Loyola University Health System recommends that patients ask their medical oncologists the following questions:
For early-stage breast cancer:
• What is the chance my cancer will be cured if I get no additional treatment after surgery?
• How much could this be improved if I take chemotherapy, endocrine therapy or both?
• Does my cancer have a specific marker called “HER2?” If so, how does this change my treatment options?
• If I need chemotherapy, how many sessions will there be, and how long will each session last? What are the side effects? Will I have to take off work, and if so, for how long?
For advanced-stage breast cancer:
• Where has my cancer spread? What does this mean?
• How can my symptoms be treated?
• What are the treatment options?
• How much will the treatment improve my odds of living longer? What are the side effects, and which treatment will give me the best quality of life?
Regarding clinical trials:
• Which clinical trials are appropriate for me? Clinical trials are available for both early- and advanced-stage cancers and offer excellent opportunities to improve upon standard treatments. Read the informed consent document closely with family or friends before making a final decision, and do not be afraid to seek a second opinion from another cancer center.