Breast cancer is one of the most recognised cancers in the world. Thanks to massive public awareness campaigns, including by the Sultanate’s Oman Cancer Association, nearly everyone understands the significance of a pink ribbon but how many can say they have a well-informed knowledge of the disease?
The truth is, breast cancer is extremely complex and not a one-size-fits-all disease. It’s classified into different types based on the unique biology of each tumour, including the size, if and where it has spread, how it looks under the microscope and what’s causing it to grow at the cellular level, according to the American Cancer Society. Understanding the various biological features is critical as they help to determine treatment decisions, and directly affect outcomes for patients.
As one breast cancer survivor, Pamela Cunningham, knows all too well, knowledge is power when navigating a breast cancer journey. When diagnosed with Stage II HER2-positive early breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, Ms Cunningham said that, while she understood there were different stages, she was shocked to discover so many different types.
In fact, her mother had faced breast cancer several years earlier and neither Ms Cunningham nor her father knew from which kind her mother had suffered.
To understand her diagnosis better, she talked to friends who had faced similar situations, and sought a second opinion. After learning more, Ms Cunningham felt confident in her decision to receive a treatment regime that helped to shrink her tumour before undergoing surgery to remove it.
“I’m really thankful I went the way I did,” Ms Cunningham says. “I would advise other women to do their own research, find out the available treatments and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about all of your options and possible side- effects.”
Ms Cunningham and her oncologist, Dr. Karen Tedesco of New York Oncology Hematology, offer the following tips to help patients understand how to approach a breast cancer diagnosis.
1. Strength in numbers
The news of a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming for patients and their loved ones. Make the most of the first few doctor appointments by bringing a friend outside of the immediate family to ensure the information is being absorbed and the right questions are being asked.
2. Build a support team
In addition to family and friends, it’s important to have a strong healthcare and surrounding support team. Seek out nursing assistants, local breast cancer support groups and financial assistance to ensure you’re properly informed and have all the resources you need. Do not hesitate to consider a second opinion until you feel 100 per cent confident in your healthcare team and treatment plan.
3. Understand your diagnosis
Learning about your specific type of breast cancer is essential because the unique biology of your tumour can directly have an impact on your breast cancer journey. Knowing the four Ss – stage, size, status and subtype – of your tumour can help you understand your diagnosis and the treatment options available to you.
4. Ask questions, then ask more
Consider asking your doctor the following questions: Are you eligible for clinical trials? Are there special treatments geared towards your specific type of breast cancer? Do you need surgery? Does surgery have to be the first step? Being actively involved can help to ensure each patient receives the best treatment option for her.
For more tips on how to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis, visit gene.com. For women in the Sultanate, contact the Oman Cancer Association at firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll-free on 800 77477.
* Family Features