Important questions women should ask their doctor about breast cancer

October 19, 2017 Providence Health Team

If you are a woman, you are at risk of developing breast cancer during your lifetime. This is especially true for post-menopausal women and women with a family history of breast disease and breast cancer. If you are concerned about or have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, there are some questions you should ask your health care provider. These questions will not only help alleviate the fear and anxiety associated with breast cancer, but they will help you feel more in control of your health and well-being.

We sat down with Alison Conlin, MD, Director of the Breast Cancer Medical Oncology Program at the Providence Breast Care Clinic, to discuss the top questions women should ask their doctors if they have concerns about breast cancer.

What is an oncology nurse navigator?

An oncology nurse navigator is an oncology certified nurse (OCN) who provides education for each cancer patient concerning his or her individual treatment and recovery. They are also a terrific resource that can help you refine your cancer questions, so you are prepared when you meet with your doctor.

What should I know if I’m concerned about developing breast cancer?

Women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer but have concerns about their long-term breast health should ask these important questions during their next well woman checkup:

  • How often should I be screened with a mammogram, and when should I start?
    The reason this question is so important is because it is different for every woman. Your doctor will review your medical records and family history and recommend when you should start and how often you should screen for breast cancer. There is a lot of conflicting information available online, so it is important to seek individualized treatment based on your medical needs.
  • Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk?
    While there are a handful of lifestyle changes that help reduce your risk of breast and many other types of cancer, your doctor may have something more specific in mind. Common lifestyle changes include maintaining a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco products.
  • Should I see a genetic counselor to determine whether my family history increases my risk?
    If you have concerns about your family history, these tests may provide a sense of relief from uncertainty and help you make informed decisions about managing your health care.

I have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. What do I need to know?

Speaking with an oncology nurse navigator can be helpful to women who may be struggling mentally and emotionally with their diagnosis. Keep the questions below in mind to build a framework for making treatment decisions and establishing a survivorship plan in partnership with your medical service providers.

  • What type of breast cancer do I have and what does that mean?
  • Where is my breast cancer located and how big is it?
  • What is the stage of my cancer and what does that mean?
  • Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?
  • What does “hormone receptor status” mean and what is my status?
  • What does “HER2 status” mean and what is my status?
  • Are there additional tests required before we can determine a treatment plan?
  • Do I need to see any other doctors or health professionals before beginning treatment?
  • What are my chances of survival with this type and stage of cancer?
  • Who can talk to me about the costs and insurance coverage for my diagnosis and treatment?

These questions are a good starting point for women who are concerned about breast health or a recent breast cancer diagnosis. However, every woman should take time to consider additional, more specific questions based on her concerns or medical issue. For those struggling with a recent diagnosis, the Providence Breast Care Clinic and our certified oncology nurse navigators are here to help.

Your dedicated nurse navigator will help with:

  • Explaining your pathology and radiology results
  • Explaining the disease process
  • Empowering you to make informed treatment decisions
  • Explaining treatment options
  • Monitoring your progress through treatment
  • Educating you on survivorship planning

For more information, contact our Breast Care Clinic in Portland, Oregon.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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