What Do I Do If I’ve Been Diagnosed With Breast Cancer?

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

Again it is important to keep breathing! Find your support system. Realize that life has changed but not ended! A diagnosis of breast cancer is not a death sentence and it is not an emergency. A woman has time to find out as much as she wants to know about her diagnosis. I tell women it is like going back to school in a class you never wanted to take but you will pass.

I would first recommend that a woman or her partner find the nearest Breast Center — most cities or universities now have one, if not several. These centers, however, need to be more than imaging centers and should have multidisciplinary teams of breast surgeons, oncologists and radiation specialists. www.breastcare.org. If you are unable to find a breast center, it is important that you have confidence in your surgeon, usually the person that first diagnosed you, and that she/he has contacts with medical and radiation oncologists. There are websites of breast surgeons also – www.breastsurgeons.org . However, some people choose not to belong, or cannot afford the membership fees to all these organizations, so the fact that your surgeon does not belong does not mean that she/he is not good. However, all surgeons should be board certified. Many surgeons are now choosing to specialize in breast and have practices where they only do breast surgery. If you want this type of care you should be able to find it. www.womensurgeons.org/CDR/Breast. There are several websites that cover the basics and overview of breast cancer treatment options.

Here are my favorites —

There is a lot of information on these sites, and many diagrams and search functions. Some of the sites also have subscription newsletters and links to other sites. 

Also, now there are many books on the topic. My favorite still remains one of the first — Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book. A Breast Center should also have a library of information, pamphlets, brochures, videos and check lists — www.educareinc.com/patient. 

 A woman is usually referred first to a surgeon. Again, most general surgeons are trained in breast surgery, but there is a growing specialty of breast surgeons who see and operate only on breasts.

Many women prefer to see a specialist. A woman, however, should feel comfortable with her surgeon and get as many opinions as she wants to find this person who often is the “captain” of her team.

 A woman and her support team should be provided with the “standard of care” for breast cancer. This standard usually includes surgery, radiation and some type of systemic or total body care.

 Surgery in 2003 should include a choice between a lumpectomy and mastectomy. Women should understand that both types of surgery can offer the same long term survival. www.healthandage.com. Both usually are accompanied by a relatively new procedure called sentinel node biopsy. www.cancernews.com. Sentinel node biopsies in breast cancer have become standard-of-care in 2003, and a woman should request that it be done. There are only very few cases where it cannot be done. Sentinel node biopsies reduce the time of surgery and most of the post operative complications for many women. The surgical experience can be made into a very positive one instead of a frightening trip if one wants to use some new techniques. www.healfaster.com