The treatment options available to you depend on a number of factors, including the type of tumor, the extent of the disease at the time of diagnosis, your age, and your medical history. However, your personal feelings about the treatment, your self image, and your lifestyle will also be important considerations in your doctor's assessment and recommendations. You and your doctor should discuss these treatment methods and how they apply to your situation.
Understanding all of your options from the beginning of your diagnosis allows you to have all of the information you need to make an informed and rational decision about your care.
The two-step treatment method involves having a biopsy one day, then if the lump is cancerous, the treatment will begin after discussing treatment options with your surgeon and as soon as the scheduling of your surgeon and operating facilities permits. In many cases, the biopsy can be done on an outpatient basis—often in the doctor's office or mammography suite. Most biopsies can be performed under local anesthesia. Your surgeon will discuss the specific type of biopsy with you.
The short time between biopsy and treatment (which will not reduce the chances for success) allows time to examine the permanent section slides, to perform additional tests to determine the extent of the disease, to discuss treatment options, to gain another medical opinion if desired, to make home and work arrangements, and to prepare emotionally for the treatment.
Once a diagnosis of invasive cancer is made, you may go through a staging process to determine if the tumor has spread to any other organs in the body. This usually includes a chest x-ray, liver function tests, and bone scan. In certain instances your physician may request a PET scan, MRI, orCAT scan. An abnormality in these does not mean the tumor has spread but that further testing is needed.
Making Treatment Decisions
Important decisions are always hard to make, particularly when they concern your health. However, there are a number of things you can do to make decisions about breast cancer treatment easier. One is gathering information.
• Talk with your doctor. There are a number of treatments that may be used for breast cancer. To make sure you will be comfortable with your decision to have a particular treatment, you may want to get a second medical opinion. Obtaining a second opinion does not mean you do not trust your doctor; it means you are insuring that you are receiving the best possible care and treatment that exists.
• Gather additional information from published reports. Many articles and books have been written about breast cancer for patients and professionals. There is also much information about cancer in general. Others are available at local libraries and may be available through local offices of the American Cancer Society.
• Log onto the BreastCancer.org website or other related web sites.
• Discuss treatment options with friends and relatives. Although you and your doctor are in the best position to evaluate treatment options, it sometimes helps to discuss your feelings with others whose judgment you respect. Often, close friends and relatives can provide insight that can help your own thinking.
• Talk with other women who have had breast cancer. Many women who have been treated for breast cancer are willing to share their experiences. Your local American Cancer Society (ACS) office may be able to direct you to such women through its Reach to Recovery program. This program, which works through volunteers who have had breast cancer, helps women meet the physical, emotional and cosmetic needs of their disease and its treatment. Some ACS offices have volunteer visitors who have had a mastectomy, breast reconstruction, radiation or chemotherapy. Sometimes they are able to meet with women before surgery. Contact your local ACS office for additional information.