These tips will make your appointments easier (and more productive).
Although a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is serious, it’s not hopeless. “The most important thing that I want my patients to know is that there is hope,” says Natalie Berger, MD, hematologist and oncologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “Today, we have so many new treatments and options available for our patients.”
Knowing that you have an opportunity to survive longer and even thrive may help empower you to be an active member of your breast cancer treatment team. Research shows that those who are involved in their treatment tend to be more confident about the process and even have better treatment outcomes.
Want to be more engaged in the treatment process? Here are tips to talk to your doctor during appointments for metastatic breast cancer treatment:
1. Ask about your treatment options
It’s tempting to let your doctor make all the decisions and just be a passive recipient of those choices, but it’s important to remember that there are many treatment options available, and an important factor in which treatment is right is how it might affect your life.
Treatment options for metastatic breast cancer may include:
While not every patient is a candidate for every treatment option, there may be more than one option that’s right for you, and your input can help make the treatment process more tolerable for you.
2. Ask about side effects
“Side effects are always a very, very scary part of cancer treatment, probably one of the most scary parts, so it is so important to sit down with your doctor and ask them questions to better understand what side effects are,” says Dr. Berger.
Hearing about side effects can feel overwhelming, but knowing the potential side effects can alleviate some stress about what’s going on. Some side effects can also be treated to further improve the process. For example, here are ways to manage pain and fatigue from metastatic breast cancer treatment.
“Most of the side effects are not going to happen to everybody, so it's really important to know that even though we tell you about all these different side effects, chances are, you won't experience most of these, but we just want to let you know so that you're aware and prepared,” says Dr. Berger.
3. Ask about the treatment schedule
“It's important to talk to your doctor about the treatment schedule, about how often you have to come in for office visits, because all of those things may help influence which choice of treatment is best for you,” says Dr. Berger.
4. Write down your questions
“The most important thing to prepare for an appointment with your doctor when discussing treatments is writing down your questions, because as soon as you walk into the office and your doctor starts talking to you, you may forget a lot about what you wanted to ask,” says Dr. Berger.
The more you understand your treatment process, the more confident you’re likely to feel throughout the process. This can help alleviate stress and anxiety about your metastatic breast cancer treatment, and can help you clear up myths about metastatic breast cancer.
5. Bring someone with you
Your questions may be written down so you don’t forget them, but it can be easy to forget the doctor’s answers. This is why it may help to have a trusted friend or family member at your appointments with you to act as an extra set of ears. You could even ask them to take notes during the appointment.
It’s okay to still feel stressed even though you’re doing all of the above actions. Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can bring a lot of emotions, and everyone processes them differently. Here are self-care tips to cope with metastatic breast cancer.
Dr. Berger is a hematologist and oncologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
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The most important thing that I want my patients
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to know is that there is hope, even with a diagnosis
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of metastatic breast cancer.
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Today, we have so many new treatments and options
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available for our patients, and we treat this like a chronic disease.
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Hopefully, the lifespan of patients with metastatic
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breast cancer will be measured in years.
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When a patient has metastatic breast cancer,
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this means that the cancer has left the breast
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and it's traveled to other parts of the body,
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either through the lymph nodes or through the bloodstream.
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Breast cancer cells can travel anywhere in the body.
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They can travel most commonly to the bone,
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or the lung, or the liver, and what's really important
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is that we treat the entire body to try and kill
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these breast cancer cells.
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And so what that means is using treatment that may
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come in several different forms depending on your subtype
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of breast cancer, so that we can kill cancer cells
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no matter where they are in your body.
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It's important to ask your doctor, is there one option
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of treatment that you would recommend,
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or are there more than one option?
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Side effects are always a very, very scary part
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of cancer treatment, probably one of the most scary parts,
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so it is so important to sit down with your doctor
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and ask them questions to better understand
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what side effects are, but most of the side effects
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are not going to happen to everybody, so it's really important
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to know that even though we tell you about all these
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different side effects, chances are, you won't
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experience most of these, but we just want to let
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you know so that you're aware and prepared.
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And it's important to talk to your doctor
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about the treatment schedule, about how often you have
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to come in for office visits, because all of those things
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may help influence which choice of treatment is best for you.
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The most important thing to prepare for an appointment
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with your doctor when discussing treatments
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is writing down your questions,
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because as soon as you walk into the office
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and your doctor starts talking to you, you may forget
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a lot about what you wanted to ask.
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Also, it's very important to bring somebody along with you:
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a trusted friend or family member who can be an extra set
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of ears for you, because it's really hard when hearing
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everything that you're gonna be hearing during that office visit,
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to retain that information.
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Today, most of our treatments, while still may involve
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chemotherapy at some point during your treatment,
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they may also involve more targeted therapies,
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oral therapies, and also immunotherapy.
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These therapies come with less side effects,
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with better efficacy, and allows patients to live
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a longer and healthier life.
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Treating breast cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on February 4, 2020 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment.html.)
Questions to ask your doctor about breast cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on February 4, 2020 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/understanding-a-breast-cancer-diagnosis/questions-to-ask-your-doctor-about-breast-cancer.html.)