Back August 5, 2016

After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, What Comes Next? What Newly Diagnosed Patients Can Do to Personalize Their Cancer Journey

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s normal to feel shock, fear, and anxiety. But becoming informed may make it easier to cope with the reality of your diagnosis. Talk to your doctor to better understand your diagnosis so you and your doctor can determine the appropriate treatment path for your individual needs. Here are 3 steps to help you make the best personal decisions during your cancer journey.

  1. Understanding Treatment Choices

More and more, treatment strategies are being tailored to a breast cancer patient’s unique individual tumor characteristics and individual health needs. If you’ve been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer that is confined to the breast and nearby lymph nodes, your doctor may recommend surgery, with or without radiation followed by adjuvant therapy (see below). If the cancer cells have spread from the breast to other parts of the body, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or some combination of these treatments, may be your best option. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of each treatment.

For patients with early-stage estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, following surgery, your doctor may prescribe anti-estrogen (hormonal) therapies, such as tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor. Other considerations that may help you and your doctor weigh a treatment decision are your overall health, age, and personal preferences.

  1. Understanding Your Personal Risk

Patients with early-stage ER+ breast cancer typically receive anti-estrogen therapy for 5 or even up to 10 years or more to help lower the risk of recurrence. However, extending treatment past the initial 5 years may not be for everyone, due to serious side effects and long-term safety risks from the medications. Plus, research suggests that prolonging these regimens may only benefit a small percentage of patients. If you’ve been previously diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you are likely to benefit from extending anti-estrogen therapy beyond 5 years.  A new genomic test can help to determine your risk of recurrence and whether you are likely to benefit from these medications after an initial 5 years of anti-estrogen therapy. Talk to your doctor so that together, you and your healthcare team can incorporate this information into the decisions to personalize your treatment plan.

  1. Deciding What’s Right for You

This is your journey – feel empowered to take an active role in your care and treatment. Ask questions that will help you better understand your diagnosis, evaluate the risks and benefits of treatment options, and work with your doctor to choose a treatment that best fits you as an individual. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor:

  • What type of breast cancer do I have?
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • What treatments are considered the gold standard for my cancer, and what other options may I have?
  • What are the expected survival rates with these treatments?
  • What are the pros and cons and side effects of these treatment options?
  • How long will the treatment last?
  • Are there any more tests that need to be done before starting treatment? Will I also be tested during and after treatment?
  • Are these invasive tests?
  • Can you tell me if the new genomic test that helps provide information on individual risk of the cancer coming back is right for me?

For more direction on how to have this conversation with your doctor, download our discussion guide.