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Here For The What Ifs: Common Questions About Breast Cancer Treatment

What if the can­cer is found at an ear­li­er stage? What are my options?

While receiv­ing a breast can­cer diag­no­sis at any stage can be scary, when it is iden­ti­fied at an ear­ly stage, treat­ment options are often less inva­sive. This is because the can­cer has not had a chance to spread out­side of the breast.

Treat­ment for ear­ly-stage breast can­cer often includes a com­bi­na­tion of radi­a­tion ther­a­py and surgery. Depend­ing on your biop­sy results, spe­cif­ic can­cer case and your over­all health, chemother­a­py or a refer­ral to a med­ical oncol­o­gist may also be recommended.

What if the can­cer is found at a lat­er stage and has spread?

If the can­cer is found at a more advanced stage and has spread, addi­tion­al imag­ing may be need­ed to deter­mine the exact stag­ing and guide treat­ment recommendations.

Treat­ment for more advanced breast can­cer varies for each patient. For can­cers that have spread out­side of the breast, we often begin treat­ment with chemother­a­py, fol­lowed by surgery. In some cas­es, chemother­a­py may be giv­en on its own. In oth­ers, chemother­a­py may be giv­en along with radi­a­tion therapy.

Regard­less of the can­cer stage, rest assured that your med­ical team will work with you to help you under­stand your indi­vid­ual can­cer case, all avail­able treat­ment options, as well as addi­tion­al sup­port and resources you may need through­out your care.

What if I am wor­ried about how to tell my fam­i­ly and friends about my diagnosis?

This is a com­mon con­cern and there is no right or wrong way to talk about your can­cer diag­no­sis or treat­ment plan. How you approach these con­ver­sa­tions should be based on your lev­el of com­fort. You should feel in con­trol of when, how and with whom you con­fide in. When­ev­er my patients feel anx­ious or are unsure about how to engage their friends, fam­i­ly or col­leagues fol­low­ing their diag­no­sis, I rec­om­mend seek­ing guid­ance from com­mu­ni­ty-based sup­port orga­ni­za­tions like the Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety or Well­ness House.

What if I want a sec­ond opinion?

Seek­ing a sec­ond opin­ion can be ben­e­fi­cial because it allows you to explore all avail­able treat­ment options and receive mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives. Sec­ond opin­ions can help you feel more con­fi­dent in the care team you select and more com­fort­able mov­ing for­ward with treatment. 

What if I want to avoid surgery? Are there oth­er treat­ment options available?

While I under­stand the desire to avoid surgery, the stan­dard of care for most breast can­cers involves surgery. Surgery offers the high­est cura­tive suc­cess rate and effec­tive­ly removes the can­cer­ous tis­sue. For those who are not able to with­stand surgery or elect not to have surgery, radi­a­tion ther­a­py may be an option. How­ev­er, it is not like­ly that it will elim­i­nate the can­cer and allow the patient to enter into remis­sion on its own.

Our nurs­ing staff and team of expe­ri­enced breast sur­geons are a great resource to dis­cuss any con­cerns or fears you may be expe­ri­enc­ing lead­ing up to your surgery. You may also con­sid­er a sup­port group or local men­tor­ship pro­gram. Both allow you to dis­cuss your fears in a safe envi­ron­ment with oth­ers who can offer advice from their own per­son­al experiences.

What if I am wor­ried about los­ing my hair or have severe side effects from chemotherapy?

Con­cern about hair loss is com­mon and while pre­vent­ing it alto­geth­er may not be pos­si­ble, using items like a cold cap can help con­trol the lev­el of hair loss. The Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety also pro­vides can­cer patients with a com­pli­men­ta­ry wig through their vir­tu­al wig boutique.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, oth­er side effects are an unavoid­able part of most can­cer treat­ments. If you expe­ri­ence severe or pro­longed side effects that impact your dai­ly life, dis­cuss them with your oncol­o­gist. They can rec­om­mend ways to alle­vi­ate your symp­toms and may mod­i­fy your treat­ment plan to help min­i­mize your symptoms.

There are sup­port ser­vices includ­ing cook­ing and nutri­tion work­shops that pro­vide tips on man­ag­ing symp­toms and ways to stay as healthy and active as pos­si­ble dur­ing your treatments.

What if I am inter­est­ed in alter­na­tive treat­ment options or par­tic­i­pat­ing in a clin­i­cal trial?

If you are inter­est­ed in explor­ing alter­na­tive treat­ment options, you should express your inter­est with your oncol­o­gist. They can help you iden­ti­fy oth­er treat­ment options or clin­i­cal tri­als that may be appro­pri­ate for you.

What if I am unable to work or can’t afford my treatments?

It is pos­si­ble that you may need to take some time off of work dur­ing your treat­ment. While you may be ner­vous to talk to your employ­er, in my expe­ri­ence, most are very under­stand­ing. Your oncol­o­gist can help you com­plete paper­work for your employ­er should you need to take short-term or inter­mit­tent leave.

If you are con­cerned about the cost of your treat­ments, our finan­cial nav­i­ga­tion team can work with you to deter­mine your eli­gi­bil­i­ty for finan­cial assis­tance and grants. They can also answer your ques­tions about your health plan and sup­ple­men­tal cov­er­age that may be avail­able to min­i­mize your out-of-pock­et expenses.

What if I need sup­port or help with my day-to-day life dur­ing treatment?

Most peo­ple will need some lev­el of phys­i­cal or emo­tion­al sup­port dur­ing their can­cer treat­ment. The amount of help need­ed varies by per­son and depends on your body’s response to treat­ment. You may need trans­porta­tion assis­tance, help around your home, emo­tion­al sup­port and/​or com­pan­ion­ship. I rec­om­mend estab­lish­ing a sup­port sys­tem of friends, fam­i­ly and local sup­port groups ear­ly on. If addi­tion­al med­ical atten­tion is need­ed, home health may be rec­om­mend­ed as well.

Feel­ing over­whelmed by a breast can­cer diag­no­sis and anx­i­ety about begin­ning treat­ment is com­mon. It is impor­tant to remem­ber you aren’t alone. Talk­ing to fam­i­ly, friends and your care team about your con­cerns can help you feel more pre­pared and well-informed. For more infor­ma­tion on our Oncol­o­gy team, or to sched­ule an appoint­ment, vis­it dupagemed​ical​group​.com/​s​e​r​v​i​c​e​s​/​o​n​c​o​logy/ or call 6303647850.

Dur­ing the month of Octo­ber, in hon­or of Nation­al Breast Can­cer Aware­ness month, we want to make screen­ing as easy as pos­si­ble. That’s why we are offer­ing free clin­i­cal breast exams with a health­care pro­fes­sion­al through­out the month at sev­er­al of our sub­ur­ban Chica­go loca­tions. For a list of avail­able dates, times and loca­tions, vis­it dupagemed​ical​group​.com/​F​R​E​ECBE/. To sched­ule your exam, call 6305457659.

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