In 2019, more than 300,000 women and more than 2,600 men in the U.S. will receive a breast cancer diagnosis. The good news is that the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is around 90%.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you will have questions upon questions followed by more questions. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better prepared you will be to defeat the disease. What you should ask your medical team could fill a book. And, speaking of books, please bring a pad to your appointments and take detailed notes. There will be a lot of confusing information coming at you.
Here are just five questions you can ask to start putting the disease into perspective.
1. What kind of breast cancer do I have?
Breast cancer can be broadly classified as either ductal carcinoma, which starts in the milk ducts, or lobular carcinoma, which starts in the area of the breast that produces milk.
Beyond those two types, breast cancers are categorized as invasive or noninvasive (in situ). Specific cancers include: Lobular carcinoma in situ, ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma (the kind most commonly diagnosed in men), inflammatory breast cancer, and metastatic breast cancer. There are other less common types, as well.
2. What stage is my cancer?
Through scans or biopsies, your doctor will determine the stage of your breast cancer. There are five stages ranging from 0 to 4. Stage 0 is “ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). That’s when abnormal cells have been found that have not moved beyond the breast duct.
Stages 1 – 4 describe a combination of tumor size and/or the extent that the cancer has invaded other tissue, either within or beyond the breast. For detailed descriptions of each stage, visit BreastCancer.org.
3. How large and what grade is my tumor?
Tumor size and grade are both factors in defining the stages of a cancer. The three grades of breast cancer tumors are:
Grade 1 – tumor cells resemble normal cells and are slow growing.
Grade 2 – tumor cells are unlike normal cells, but not yet very abnormal.
Grade 3 – tumor cells are very abnormal and fast growing.
A biopsy is necessary to determine a tumor’s grade.
4. What are hormone receptors?
Cancer cells removed during a biopsy are tested for proteins called estrogen or progesterone receptors. When estrogen or progesterone are present, they help the cancer grow more quickly. Whether your cancer cells are hormone receptor-positive or negative will help determine the best treatment for you.
5. What’s next?
Breast cancer is complex and the treatment for it depends on many factors. Your doctor may refer you to specialists for more testing, after which a treatment plan will be developed. You may be referred for one or more of these options: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biologically targeted therapy, or a clinical trial.
You will, no doubt, have many more questions and Albie Aware is here to help you get the answers you need. We can accompany you to your appointments, help you understand the process, and even assist you financially if your insurance won’t cover diagnostic testing, or if the copay is out of reach for you.
For a comprehensive list of questions, please visit the Albie Aware website and click on “Questions to Ask Your Medical Team.”