Talking to Your Doctor About Breast Cancer
Michael Jubinville, MPH
You have your own health past. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and background with breast cancer. By talking openly and often with your doctor, you can make the best choices for you and your family.
General Tips for Gathering Information
Here are some tips that will make it simpler for you to talk to your doctor:
- Bring someone else with you. It helps to have some other person hear what is said and think of questions to ask.
- Write out your questions before you see the doctor, so you do not forget them.
- Write down the answers you get and make sure you grasp what you are hearing. Ask for help, if needed.
- Don't be afraid to ask your questions or ask where you can find more information. You have a right to know.
- Ask your doctor if you can record your talk so you can listen to it later.
Specific Questions to Ask Your doctor
About Breast Cancer
- Based on my health and family past, do I have a higher risk of breast cancer?
- Do I have any signs of breast cancer?
- What about the risk to other people in my family?
- What can I do to control that risk?
- Should I have breast surgery even though I do not have cancer?
About Your Risk of Getting Breast Cancer
- Based on my health and family history, do I have a higher risk of breast cancer?
- Do my symptoms point to breast cancer?
- What about other family members?
- What can I do to manage that risk?
- Should I think about having a mastectomy even though I do not have breast cancer?
Treating Breast Cancer
If your doctor says you have breast cancer, go to at least one more doctor to make sure. Then, you can talk about how to treat it. Treating breast cancer involves many types doctors. Talk to each one.
- What kinds of surgery are there? Is breast-sparing surgery something I can do?
- What are the risks of surgery?
- Do I need to have my lymph nodes removed? If so, how many?
- Where will the scars be?
- What will they look like?
- When can I have breast reconstruction? Can you help me find a plastic surgeon?
- Will I need chemotherapy?
- What are the drugs?
- How will they make me feel?
- What are the risks?
- When will this start and end?
- Do I have to stay away from certain foods?
- Do I need to stay away my grandchildren if they get sick?
- Will I need radiation therapy? If so, what type will it be?
- How long will this last?
- How often will I have to do it?
- How will this make me feel?
- What are the risks of radiation therapy?
About Lifestyle Changes
- Will I still be able to go about my day like I do now?
- When can I return to normal?
- Will I have to do special exercises?
- Will I need a special diet?
- Are there any alternative or complementary therapies I should know about?
- What are the chances that breast cancer comes back?
- Can you help me find a support group or a counselor for me and my family?
- What are my chances of living or dying?
- How will I feel during therapy?
- What kind of changes in my body should I expect?
- Will I still be able to have children?
- How will this change my sex life?
- Should I think about joining a clinical trial?
Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113654/Breast-cancer-in-women. Updated November 26, 2018. Accessed March 11, 2019.
Getting the most out of your doctor appointment. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/tips-for-talking-to-your-doctor. Updated January 19, 2018. Accessed March 11, 2019.
Talking with your health care team. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/adjusting-to-cancer/talk-with-doctors. Updated September 26, 2018. Accessed March 11, 2019.
Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/8/2019