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Breast Cancer Resource
Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

About Biopsy:

When a lump is felt in the breast or an abnormal area is found on a mammogram, a biopsy may be recommended. Follow-up tests, such as a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound imaging, can provide more information. However, to make a definite diagnosis of breast cancer, cells or tissue must be removed from the abnormal area of the breast. They are then examined under the microscope. The procedure that removes the cells or tissue is called a biopsy.

  • What kind of biopsy will I have? Why? Where will it be performed?
  • How long will it take? Will I be awake? Will it hurt? Will I have anesthesia?  What kind?
  • What are the risks?
  • When will be able to return to my normal activities?
  • How soon will I know the results?
  • If I do have cancer, who will talk with me about the next steps? When?

Before Breast Surgery:

Your treatment options depend on many factors, such as your age, tumor stage, and estrogen receptor (ER) status. Deciding on a treatment plan is as much a personal matter as it is a medical one. Your treatment should be based on the treatment’s risks and benefits and how these relate to your personal values and lifestyle.

  • What kinds of surgery can I consider? Is breast-sparing surgery an option for me? Which operation do you recommend for me? Why?
  • Will my lymph nodes be removed? How many? Why?
  • Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
  • How will I feel after the operation? Will I have to stay in the hospital? Will I need someone to help me when I return from the hospital?
  • What restrictions will I have on my normal activities?
  • Where will the scars be? What will they look like?
  • If I decide to have plastic surgery to rebuild my breast, how and when can that be done? Can you suggest a plastic surgeon for me to contact?
  • When will I have the findings of surgery? (pathology)
  • Is there someone I can talk with who has had the same surgery I’ll be having?
  • What side effects might I expect after surgery (i.e., pain, tenderness, bruising, scarring, numbness)? What problems should I report?
  • After Breast Surgery:

    After surgery, it is important to take care of yourself physically and mentally.

    • Tell me about the results: What kind of breast cancer? What is the stage of my disease? What is the tumor size? Has the cancer spread to lymph nodes or other parts of my body (metastasized)? How can I get a copy of my pathology report?
    • What are results of tests performed on my tumor (hormone receptor status, grade, Her 2/neu)?
    • Who will coordinate my care? What is the treatment recommendation? Will you refer a medical oncologist or radiation oncologist to me?
    • When will I be able to get back to my daily routine?
    • Are there any precautions I should take? If lymph nodes were removed,; Should I avoid having an injection in that arm or shaving under that arm? What is lymphedema? How can I reduce my chance of getting lymphedema?
    • Are there special exercises I should be doing? What kind? When should I start? How long should I do them? Are there any exercises that I should avoid?
    • What problems should I report to you? What pain or discomfort is normal? How do I treat any pain?

    About Breast Reconstruction:

    Breast reconstruction can help restore the look and feel of the breast that was removed during a mastectomy. Performed by a plastic surgeon, breast reconstruction can be done during the mastectomy surgery or in another operation. Exactly when you decide to have reconstruction depends on your wishes and the specifics of the situation. You should discuss your options with your doctor.

    • What are the types of reconstructive surgery? What type will give me the best results?
    • How can I expect the reconstructed breast to look and feel? How will it compare to the other breast? May I see pictures of reconstructive surgeries that you have done?
    • When is the best time for reconstruction-now or later? If I need radiation therapy, will it affect the results and success of the reconstructive breast surgery?
    • Will I have scars? Where? What will they look like? If tissue from another part of my body is used, will there be any permanent changes where the tissue was removed?
    • How many surgeries will I need?
    • What are the risks? Will it be painful? Are there side effects?
    • What activities should I avoid? When can I return to my normal activities?
    • Will I be able to detect a possible recurrence after reconstructive surgery? Will I still need mammograms?
    • How much will reconstruction cost? Will my health insurance cover the costs?
    • If I do not choose reconstruction, what prostheses, or breast forms, are available and where do I buy them? Will insurance cover the costs?

    About Radiation Therapy:

    Like surgery, radiation therapy is a local treatment for breast cancer. It uses targeted, high-energy X-rays to stop cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Radiation therapy aims to get rid of cancer from the breast, chest, axillary lymph nodes and to lower the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence).

    • Why do you recommend radiation therapy? Will other therapies be needed?
    • How long will each radiation treatment take? How many treatments will I have? How soon should treatment begin?
    • Who will plan my radiation treatments? Who will give them and where?
    • How is radiation given and how long does it take? What areas of my breast will receive radiation? If I have breast reconstruction, can I still have radiation?
    • Can I come alone or does someone need to drive me to and from my radiation treatment?
    • What can I do to prepare for my treatment (i.e., wear a two-piece outfit)?
    • What side effects should I expect and how long might they last?
    • What are the long-term risks of this treatment?
    • What should I avoid or not do during or after my treatment (i.e., skin creams, lotions, shaving, sun exposure, etc.)?
    • Can I continue normal activities (work, sex, sports, etc.) during treatment?
    • Will the costs of the treatment by covered by my health insurance?
    • How often are checkups and tests required after treatment ends? Which doctor will manage my care?

    About Breast Cancer Chemotherapy:

    Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It usually begins four to six weeks after the final surgery. Most often it involves the use of a combination of drugs, which may have a number of side effects on the body.

    • Why is chemotherapy recommended for me?
    • What is the significance of cancer found or not found in the lymph nodes? If my lymph nodes are not involved, should chemotherapy or hormone therapy still be considered?
    • What drugs will I be taking? Why have you chosen these drugs for me? Are there other combinations that are also effective? Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
    • If I need hormone treatment, would you recommend drugs or surgery to remove my ovaries?
    • When will treatment start? When will it end? How often will I have treatments?
    • Where will I go for treatment? Will I be able to drive home afterward?
    • What can I do to take care of myself during treatment?
    • How will we know the treatment is working?
    • Which side effects should I tell you about? Will there be long-term effects?

    About Hormone Therapy:

    Hormones, like estrogen, can promote growth of breast cancer if the cancer cells depend on hormones to grow. Hormone therapy treats breast cancer by preventing caner cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. The most common hormone therapy for early stage breast cancer is the drug tamoxifen. A newer class of dugs called aromatase inhibitors is also available. Other therapies, such as the suppression or removal of the ovaries, are sometimes used as well. Note: Hormone therapy is not to be confused with hormone replacement therapy.

    • Which hormone treatment do you recommend for me and why?
    • How does hormone therapy treat breast cancer?
    • What are short and long-term side effects of this hormone treatment? What are my chances of having side effects?
    • How soon after surgery should the hormone therapy be started? How long will I be on therapy?
    • How do I take treatment? How often?
    • Will I take hormone therapy along with my other treatment?
    • Will I need more tests or exams? If so, which tests and how often will they be needed?
    • What signs and symptoms should I tell you about?
    • What are the risks if I stop taking the hormone therapy?