Pink Edition: You have breast cancer - so now what?

McClatchy-Tribune Information ServiceOctober 2, 2013 

  • FAQ ABOUT SURGERY

    What are the treatment options if cancer is diagnosed?

    Most women with breast cancer will undergo surgery. Depending on the stage of the cancer and whether it has spread, additional treatment might include radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or immunotherapy.

    What are the common types of surgery?

    • Lumpectomy. This is also called breast conservation therapy because it involves removing only the lump and some normal tissue around it. About six weeks of radiation typically follows this surgery. If chemotherapy is also necessary, the radiation might be delayed until after the chemo.

    • Partial (segmental) mastectomy. In this surgery, more breast tissue is removed than in a lumpectomy. Six to seven weeks of radiation usually will follow.

    • Simple or total mastectomy. The entire breast is removed, but not the lymph nodes under the arm or muscle tissue beneath the breast.

    • Modified radical mastectomy. The entire breast is removed, along with some lymph nodes under the arm.

    • Radical mastectomy. This surgery, which is rarely done now, involved removing the entire breast, lymph nodes and the chest wall muscles under the breast.

If doctors recently diagnosed cancer - or if your mother, sister or friend has it - then you might have questions. Maybe you don't even know where to begin.

STEP 1 Scream, yell and vent. Feel free to cry, throw things and tell everyone or no one about your diagnosis. But we recommend telling your spouse, mother and best friend as soon as possible - you're going to need their support.

STEP 2 Call your insurance company. Ask them to go over your coverage. Are referrals required for all the doctors you'll need to see? Will they pay for a second opinion?

STEP 3 Do your homework. A good place to start: "What to Do Next," an online brochure that you'll find at bcaction.org. Other go-to sites for trustworthy info: the American Cancer Society (cancer.org), Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation (susanlovemd.com), Susan G. Komen for the Cure (komen.org) and CancerCare (cancercare.org).

STEP 4 Get a copy of your pathology report. It contains key information about your breast cancer. That way you can do some research before meeting with a surgeon. To learn how to read yours, do some Internet research. One possible source: ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/ContentsofaPathologyReport.html.

STEP 5 Find a breast surgeon. Ask your primary care doctor for referrals, or call a cancer center near you. You can also go to castleconnolly.com and search the database of doctors.

STEP 6 Get a second opinion. A second doctor might suggest different surgery or treatment options, or simply validate the first doctor's opinion - either way, it's worthwhile. Don't worry about offending anyone; it's common practice, and health insurance usually covers it when cancer is suspected or diagnosed.

STEP 7 Ask lots of questions before making any big decisions. For help generating your list, go to cancer.net and click on "Cancer Types/Breast Cancer/Questions to Ask the Doctor."

STEP 8 Talk to someone who's been there. Check out the "Sound Off" message board at komen.org. It helps with questions about the strange taste in your mouth from chemo or how to deal with your hair falling out. To speak to a survivor, call the Breast Cancer Network of Strength (800-221-2141) or SHARE (866-891-2392).

STEP 9 Get support. Not all support groups are about sitting around and commiserating: Many hospitals or groups offer yoga and other exercise programs, cooking programs and more. Check with a local hospital, the Treasure Valley YMCA, or a local support group or resource center for information - such as Cancer Connection Idaho (cancerconnectionidaho.org).

FINANCIAL HELP CancerCare (cancercare.org or 800-813-HOPE) can help with some costs, including transportation, home care, child care and pain medication for those who qualify. And a program helps people who are having trouble meeting insurance co-payments for prescriptions (866-55-COPAY, cancercarecopay.org).

SOURCES: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org; www.breastcancer.org; Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, www.komen.org; University of California, San Francisco.

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