When a woman is informed that she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, she typically goes into a state of mental shock. She might think: "You've made a mistake"; "Why me?” And, "Am I going to live?" These are just a few of the common thoughts that spiral through a woman's mind. Since every woman is unique, the approach to guiding a woman through the process of understanding her diagnosis and her treatment options must be individualized. However, experience has taught us that there are a series of helpful steps that minimize the stress in the journey from just being diagnosed to the successful completion of treatment.
When we first opened our center 25 years ago, we prided ourselves on our ability to provide newly diagnosed breast cancer patients with immediate and comprehensive explanations about their breast cancer. We soon learned that most women were not ready to absorb these intricate details in the first days after being diagnosed. We still see the patient and her family immediately following diagnosis, and attempt to answer all questions. Now, however, a major focus of the initial discussion is to ensure that the patient is emotionally prepared to go forward with the process.
Within 48 hours of being diagnosed, most women are ready to focus on their treatment options. Before reviewing these options, it is essential that a woman has a clear understanding of her cancer diagnosis. The first question that must be answered: “Is my cancer invasive or non-invasive?”
With non-invasive cancers, the initial focus of the discussion is whether or not the breast can be saved (in most cases, it can). The amount of time required to eventually make a decision is less of an issue than with a more invasive cancer.
With invasive cancers time is an issue; however, the process should not be rushed. It is essential that a woman take the time to fully understand the nature of her cancer, as well as all her treatment options. It is also essential that the physician team have time to study the various clinical issues so that the most accurate treatment recommendations can be made. At the center, all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are presented to a dedicated weekly Breast Care Panel in which a Radiologist re-reviews the mammograms, a pathologist re-reviews the slides, and a surgeon and/or oncologist presents the history and clinical findings. Based on these findings, the multidisciplinary team formulates a treatment plan.