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Questions That You May Want to Ask Your Doctor Before Beginning Treatment

Patients that are diagnosed with breast cancer need to be fully informed and aware of the spectrum of treatment options that are available to them. It is important to think about what questions you might have prior to your appointment with your primary care physician and/or surgeon so you can get the most information from your appointment as possible. It is also important that you have the time you need to discuss these questions with your doctor. Your time will be maximized if you come to the appointment prepared.

Since this can be a stressful and emotional appointment, it is recommended that you have a friend, family member or an advocate with you to help write down responses from your questions.1 You may even want to record the discussion so that you can go back and review your questions and comments.

Each person will have unique questions that pertain to their own life situation and how treatment will affect them. Take the time to write the questions out in advance and bring a written copy with you to the appointment. This will allow you to focus entirely on the information that is being given to you instead of worrying about something you might have left out.

Question 1: What are the treatment options for my stage and type of breast cancer and what are the risks and benefits of each?

Very few breast cancer patients will only have one option for treatment. The type of treatment will vary based on your age, breast cancer stage, type of cancer and your overall health. Women that are in menopause will also have different treatment options than those that are premenopausal.

Asking your doctor to provide all treatment options is a key to getting a comprehensive overview of your choices. Knowing the risks and benefits of each option is essential when making a choice that will fit into your lifestyle. It is also beneficial for patients to understand the risks of choosing not to undergo treatment.2

Question 2: Of the treatments discussed which one do you recommend and why?

This question allows you to hear what your cancer treatment team or your doctor or surgeon believes is in your best interest. Hearing what the experts recommend is important since they are using their extensive experience in treating breast cancer patients to determine which option they consider the best for you.

However, it is important to remember that the physician is just another person and what they recommend may not be what you are comfortable with. Ultimately, the final choice is always yours.

Question 3: If I have surgery, what is your recommendation for treatment after surgery? Will I require radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapy and why?

Most surgeons, even if they recommend preoperative chemo or radiation, will also recommend postoperative therapy of some type. This is an important consideration for most women and may require additional time off work for emotional and physical recovery.3 Understanding the long term treatment plan is essential in determining how it will fit into your life and work schedules.

Question 4: Are there clinical trials that I would qualify to participate in? Where can I find information about the trails and do you recommend that I participate? What, if any, are your concerns about the trial(s)?

Some breast cancer patients are able to take advantage of cutting edge research by participating in clinical trials. Clinical trials tend to have very specific inclusion criteria and there is often a lengthy commitment for participating in the trial. On the other hand, they are often free or very inexpensive to participate in. Understanding the risks and benefits of the trial and what your doctor’s perceptions are of the trial will help you determine whether or not it is the best option for you.

Question 5: What is the timeline for beginning treatment and who can I talk to about my insurance coverage for these options?

Understanding the timeline for beginning treatment will help you gather information that you can discuss with your family and loved ones in order to make the decision that is best for you. This decision may be impacted by the type of insurance you have, what options are covered under your policy and what financial assistance programs the hospital may be able to offer.

References

1 Sepucha, K. R., Belkora, J. K., Mutchnick, S., et al. (2002). Consultation Planning to Help Breast Cancer Patients Prepare for Medical Consultations: Effect on Communication and Satisfaction for Patients and Physicians . Journal of Clinical Oncology , 2695-2700.

2 Coulter, A., Entwistle, V., & Gilbert, D. (1999). Sharing decisions with patients: is the information good enough? British Medical Journal , 318-322

3 Coates, A., Abraham, S., Kaye, S., et al. (1983). On the receiving end—patient perception of the side-effects of cancer chemotherapy. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology , 203-208.

4 Siminoff, L., Zhang, A., et al. (2000). Referral of breast cancer patients to medical oncologists after initial surgical management. Med Care , 696-704.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.