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Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Questions to Ask

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and you are bound to have numerous questions to ask a breast surgical oncologist about breast cancer treatment. But remember, there’s always time to get a second opinion. It’s critically important to confirm that your diagnosis is correct before treatment begins. When considering where to receive treatment, ask the provider the following breast cancer questions.

Questions to ask about breast cancer

  • After being diagnosed with breast cancer, your first inclination may be to “get it out” as soon as possible. However, there is always time to seek additional opinions and weigh your treatment options with the help of your loved ones. A 2018 study published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology found that 43% of breast cancer patients who received a second opinion at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center had a change in diagnosis. The last thing you want is to treat the wrong type of cancer. If you’re told there isn’t time for a second opinion or you feel rushed to have surgery, look elsewhere for care.

  • Having dense breast tissue is very common. Breast density reflects the amount of fibrous and glandular tissue in a woman’s breasts compared with the amount of fatty tissue, as seen on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women without dense breast tissue, and breast cancer is more difficult to detect on a mammogram if you have dense breast tissue. Women with dense breast tissue may benefit from additional supplemental screening exams, such as screening breast ultrasound or breast MRI.

  • Do your research and you’ll find the very latest treatment options are developed, refined and offered to patients first at NCI-designated cancer centers. At an NCI-designated cancer center, patients have a 25% better chance of survival. The University of Kansas Cancer Center is 1 of fewer than 60 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers nationwide. Comprehensive designation is the highest level of recognition awarded by the NCI.

  • There is a big difference between a general oncologist or surgeon and a breast cancer oncologist or surgeon. Breast cancer specialists, such as those at The Women’s Cancer Center, have years of advanced training and know what works for each subset of breast cancer. The more members on your team who treat only breast cancer, the better. This is equally important for radiologists and pathologists, who play a critical role in determining the correct diagnosis.

  • It’s important that your provider takes the time to discuss the pros and cons of all treatment options with you and answers each of your questions. Your recommended treatment should be based on your tumor’s molecular characteristics and your unique genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

  • An international clinical trial recently found that many patients with early-stage breast cancer may not need chemotherapy. The goal should be to cure the cancer without overtreating the patient. We offer clinical trials that focus on ways to reduce harmful and unnecessary treatment of early-stage breast cancer while improving survivorship and quality of life.

  • When it comes to cancer, experience matters. It’s important to see specialists who treat your cancer day in and day out. Breast surgeons, for instance, only operate on breasts, as compared to general surgeons, who nationally report only 10% of cases as breast-specific. Studies show subspecialized surgeons offer advanced surgical techniques and have better outcomes, including lower complication rates, improved appearance, and higher patient survival. According to a study of patient outcomes, your chances of surviving cancer are up to 25% higher at NCI-designated cancer centers.

  • There are side effects to breast cancer treatment. It’s important to know what they are and what the provider will do to prevent or treat them. For instance, lymphedema – a buildup of lymph fluid that causes swelling often in the arms – is a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery. Some providers are very good at treating it. National rates for lymphedema incidence are 7% after sentinel lymph node dissection and 30% after axillary dissection. Ask about the lymphedema incidence rates.

  • Clinical trials provide access to potential advancements in cancer care and lead to innovations in cancer prevention and treatment. There are four phases of clinical trials, each of which is designed to answer specific questions. Knowing the phase of the clinical trial is important because it can give you some idea about how much is known about the treatment being studied. NCI-designated cancer centers offer early-phase clinical trials. This means that patients can be the first to receive a promising new drug or treatment that is not yet widely available. Ask how many clinical trials are offered, especially for your particular cancer.

  • Anyone at increased risk for hereditary breast cancer may benefit from genetic counseling and testing. This includes individuals diagnosed with breast cancer, especially those diagnosed before age 50 or diagnosed with a triple negative breast cancer. It also includes family members of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer. If someone has a known genetic mutation increasing their risk of cancer, family members should also seek genetic counseling and testing, as they may have the mutation. To help you understand your risk factors for cancer, we offer genetic counseling with board-certified genetic counselors who follow guidelines set by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Even if there is no genetic mutation identified, having a family history of breast cancer may increase your risk of developing breast cancer. We provide additional breast cancer screening and risk-reducing options through our high-risk breast clinic.

KU Cancer Center physician meeting with patient prior to cancer treatment.

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The Women’s Cancer Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center focuses on breast and gynecologic cancers, providing specialized care to women.

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Having confidence in your diagnosis and treatment is critical when you're faced with the possibility of cancer. Call 913-588-1227 for a second opinion.

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