Here for the "What Ifs" - Answering Your Most Common Questions About Breast Cancer Treatment
Questions About Breast Cancer Treatment
Following a breast cancer diagnosis, you will receive a lot of information about your health and treatment options, which can bring up many questions and you may experience anxiety as you prepare for treatment. Whether you’re considering seeking a second opinion or are concerned about side effects, medical oncologist, Surekha Boddipalli, MD, answers common breast cancer treatment questions.
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 dupagemedicalgroup.com/services/oncology/ or call 630-364-7850.
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 dupagemedicalgroup.com/FREECBE/. To schedule your exam, call 630-545-7659.