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Advanced Breast Cancer: Managing Your Medical Care: Diagnosis To Treatment Decision

Learn About Your Specific Diagnosis.

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There is a medical learning curve required to be an informed consumer. You do not need to learn enough to become a doctor. You only need enough information to be able to have a precise discussion with your medical team and to be able to make informed decisions.

At first glance, it may seem like a lot to learn in a short period of time. However, the amount of time and energy required will be lessened if you limit what you access to your diagnosis, the tests your doctor is proposing, and the likely treatments (and side effects) that fit within your own priorities.

How much beyond the bare minimum to learn is up to you.

At least learn the following:

    • What type of breast cancer do I have?
    • What is the stage of my breast cancer?
    • If it has spread, where has it spread to?
It is helpful to understand the make up of a breast and how breast cancer can spread.

If you do not already know about the make up of a breast and the lymph system through which breast cancer can spread, now is the time to learn.

A description and easy-to-understand drawing of the internal workings of a normal breast and the lymph system through which breast cancer can spread is available at the website of the American Cancer Society: offsite link.

Cancer terms you need to know

Learn basic cancer terms to know. For example:

  • A lumpectomy (Lump-ech- tuh-me) is the removal of a tumor and some normal breast tissue. In most cases, you are left with a small scar.
  • A mastectomy (Mas-TEK-tuh-me) is the removal of breast tissue and skin, including the tumor.
  • A double mastectomy is the removal of both breasts.
  • Metastasis (meh-TAS-tuh-sis). Sometimes cancer cells break away from a tumor and spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. The cells can settle in other places in the body and form new tumors. This is called metastasis. Even when cancer has spread to a new location in the body, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. If breast cancer spreads from the breast to the bones, it is still called breast cancer.

The American Society of Clinical Oncologists provides a list of cancer terms that you are likely to encounter at offsite link. The American Cancer Society web page noted above also includes brief descriptions of different types of breast cancer and common terms. See: offsite link.

Where to find your diagnosis

The kind of breast cancer you have is stated in a pathology (path-AWL-uh-gee) report.

  • A pathology report is a report about what was revealed by the sample taken during a biopsy. It explains the type of breast cancer you have and how big the tumor is. It also states whether your tumor is likely to grow quickly or slowly. The pathology report may use a system of numbers and letters to show how serious your cancer is and your cancer stage.
  • A pathology report is supposed to be written in language that lay people who are not medical experts can understand.

The different types of breast cancer

To learn about each of the following types of breast cancer, including what each type looks like compared to normal cancer cells, we provide links to the website of the College of American Pathologists:

If you have lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), this is not a "true cancer". No immediate or active treatment is recommended for most women with LCIS. For American Cancer Society recommendations about follow-up exams see: offsite link

Your Stage

You can learn about breast cancer stages, including the tests used to help determine the stage, at the American Cancer Society's Web site: offsite link


If you are interested in the statistics about what happens to people with your breast cancer diagnosis, the statistics are available on the American Cancer Society Web site (click here offsite link). Keep in mind that statistics are about large numbers of people, and are about the past. They do not take into account continuing medical advances. They also do not indicate what will happen to any individual, much less to you.

NOTE: You do not have to live with pain, or other difficult side effects of your condition, drugs or treatment. There are remedies available. Talk with your doctor.

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