After your initial mammogram screening, you receive a call requesting that you come back for more detailed imaging. You had a biopsy and waited for the results. Your first thought was, well a lot of people have abnormal mammograms, my doctors are just being cautious.
Then you get the call and you hear: You have breast cancer.
Your first response is a sense of shock. Is this real? How will I tell my family members and loved ones? What happens next?
“If you’re found to have cancer, the first and most important thing to remember is that you’re not going to be alone in this experience,” says Margaret Van Meter, MD, an oncologist at Intermountain Medical Center.
Treatment for breast cancer is highly individualized, based on characteristics of the cancer, as well as your general health, and your goals and preferences.
“Thankfully, there’s a common path we follow, a treatment sequence that usually varies only in its details. A team of experienced experts in treating breast cancer will be quickly assembled to treat your cancer. You’ll be assigned a navigator to help guide you through what can sometimes be a complex treatment plan,” said Dr. Van Meter.
“We’ll put together a team of experts who specialize in breast cancer treatments that will often include a surgeon, a radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, genetic counselor, and nurse navigators. We have a team that will help guide you through the most appropriate treatment for you,” she added.
Your Breast Cancer Care Team
During your clinic visits at Intermountain Healthcare's breast cancer treatment facilities, you’ll have access to each of the following specialists:
The surgeon. The first thing you’ll do is meet with your surgeon, who specializes in breast surgery. During this meeting, you’ll discuss your options of treatment, what type of surgery you’ll be having, and if you’ll want to have reconstructive surgery afterward. Once you’ve made all the decisions, your surgery will be scheduled.
Medical pathologist and oncologist. After surgery, the tumor and surrounding tissue is sent to a pathologist, along with any lymph nodes you had removed. The pathologist will examine the tissue in detail and compile a thorough pathology report that will be sent to your oncologist. Medical oncologists have specialized training and experience in the treatment of cancer. They coordinate patient care from diagnosis through the course of the disease, assisting with pain control and symptom management. When needed, they prescribe chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and other anti-cancer drugs. Your oncologist may recommend chemotherapy alone or both chemotherapy and radiation.
Radiation oncologist. Your radiation oncologist provides radiation therapy treatment such as image-guided radiation therapy. They’ll develop and prescribe cancer treatment plans and monitor your progress.
Genetics counselor. The genetics counselor will review your family medical history and provide education about your personal risk for familial cancer.
Lymphedema therapist. These therapists evaluate and provide education about swelling caused by lymph system disruption.
Social worker. Social workers will assist with emotional support and counseling, help with your financial concerns, and advice about how to access community resources.
Dietician. Certified dietitians provide education about nutrition during cancer treatment.
Registered nurse. The nurse will coordinate your care by helping you make appointments, providing education, and answering questions.
American Cancer Society patient navigator. The American Cancer Society patient navigator connects patients with information, resources, services, and support during your cancer journey.
Tips to keep in mind during breast cancer treatment
- Beware of information on the internet
- Write down any questions you have
- Bring a family member or trusted friend
With so much information available online these days, it’s very tempting to dive in to an internet search to learn more about your diagnosis. But it’s difficult to know what information is correct and accurate regarding your situation.
“We urge you to make your first point of contact your navigator and your medical team so your questions can be answered in a way that’s most specific to your situation. If you do feel the need to research your diagnosis, we can help provide additional reliable resources, such as those from the American Cancer Society or National Cancer Institute,” said Dr. Van Meter.
Write down any questions you may have for your medical team and bring your list to your visits. Even in our digital age, a binder is often helpful for organizing notes, calendars, reports, etc.
It’s important to bring a family member or trusted friend with you to your doctor’s visits to help take notes, ask questions, and provide support.
A recent study from the American Cancer Society reported that the number of women who die from breast cancer has fallen by nearly 40 percent since 1989 due to a combination of early detection and improved treatments.
“Treatment for breast cancer may include a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and anti-hormonal pills. And again, every breast cancer and every patient is unique, and a personalized treatment plan will be recommended for you. The important thing to remember is that our multi-disciplinary team is focused specifically on your unique care plan,” Dr. Van Meter noted.