Talking to Your Doctor About Breast Cancer

You have a unique medical history. Therefore, it is essential to talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors and/or experience with breast cancer. By talking openly and regularly with your doctor, you can take an active role in your care.Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to talk to your doctor:

  • Bring someone else with you. It helps to have another person hear what is said and think of questions to ask.
  • Write out your questions ahead of time, so you don't forget them.
  • Write down the answers you get, and make sure you understand what you are hearing. Ask for clarification, if necessary.
  • Don't be afraid to ask your questions or ask where you can find more information about what you are discussing. You have a right to know.
  • Ask your doctor if it is acceptable to audio tape the interview session so that you can listen again to the interview and discussion when you are at home. Most qualified doctors will welcome the opportunity to have the session taped.
  • What kind of breast cancer do I have?
  • How will you determine whether the disease has spread?
  • What lab tests were done on the tumor tissue, and what did they show?
  • How will these results affect my treatment decision?
  • Based on my medical and family history, and symptoms, am I at an increased risk for developing breast cancer? Remember, breast cancer very often occurs in patients with no distinct risk factors.
  • Are other members in my family at an increased risk for developing breast cancer?
  • What can we do to manage that risk? Is prophylactic mastectomy appropriate considering my risk profile?
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should first try to get at least one other opinion from another doctor. If both you and your doctor agree with the diagnosis, you may want to get specific information about the surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and the radiation therapy. No one doctor will likely answer all of your questions about all of these therapies, but he should be able to give you some general pointers. Additionally, you should get very specific information from the individual specialist.
  • What kinds of surgery should I consider? Is breast-sparing surgery an option for me?
  • What are the risks of surgery?
  • Do I need to have my lymph nodes removed? If so, how many?
    • If my lymph nodes are removed, what can I do to prevent lymphedema?
  • Where will the scars be? What will they look like?
  • If I decide to have breast reconstruction, how and when can that be done? Can you suggest a plastic surgeon?
  • Will I need chemotherapy?
  • What drugs will I be taking?
  • What side effects should I expect?
  • What are the risks?
  • When will my treatments begin and end?
  • Are there certain foods to avoid (such as fresh fruits and vegetables)?
  • Do I need to avoid my grandchildren if they get sick?
  • Will I need radiation treatment? If so, will it be external or internal?
  • How long will the radiation treatments last?
  • How often will I have them?
  • What side effects should I expect?
  • What are the risks of radiation therapy?
  • Are there certain activities (such as, smoking) or certain herbs and supplements that I should avoid during my radiation? If so, why?
  • How will I feel after the operation? How will my daily activity be affected?
  • Will I have to do special exercises?
  • How long will it take for me to resume my normal activities?
  • Will I need a special diet?
  • Are there any alternative or complementary therapies I should consider?
  • What are the chances that the breast tumor will recur?
  • Can you recommend a support group or a counselor for me and my family?
  • What is my prognosis?
  • How will I feel during therapy?
  • What physiological changes should I expect? How will they affect my fertility and my sexual life?
  • Are there any clinical trials that are being conducted that may be of interest to me?



Breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed January 31, 2006.

Detailed guide: breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed January 31, 2006.

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation website. Available at: Accessed January 31, 2006.

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