1. Will I die - how long will I live? This may be at the top of your list and your specialist may offer answers that are frustratingly inconclusive. Your prognosis depends on the pathology of your breast cancer and the outcomes of treatments that will be used to give you the best chance of a long life. The good news is survival rates are higher than they have ever been and there are many treatment options available. If the cancer has been caught early, there is every chance of a cure.
2. Breast cancer is an older woman's disease - why has this happened to me? It is true that around 70% of breast cancer diagnoses are in women aged 50 plus and breast cancer incidence in younger women is much lower. Breast cancers in younger women tend to be more aggressive but the good news is we now have more effective treatments available. Most people, in fact around 85% of all people with breast cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis.
3. How am I supposed to feel?
You can feel whatever you want. Those around you may say, 'You'll be OK! Just think positive!' but you can be and feel whatever you want. Everyone responds differently to a diagnosis of cancer. What is right for someone else may not be right for you. Read more about feelings
4. This is all new 'language' to me - why can't I understand the medical terminology?
The world of cancer and its treatment may be new for and it will take time to learn the medical terms. Keep a notebook with you. When you hear a term you don't understand, ask for explanation and write it down. Take your questions to your appointments and get answers you are happy with. The internet can be an excellent source of information too if the websites are reputable. However, the internet may raise even more questions and cause anxiety. It's a good idea to always refer back to your medical team if you source information that differs to what you have been told. Learn more about treatments.
4. Will I lose my hair?
Partial or total hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Your Oncologist will be able to give you more information for your individual treatment plan. After commencement of chemotherapy, your hair won't fall out all at once probably gradually at first, and then more rapidly over ensuing weeks. There is a government subsidy for wigs/hairpieces/headwear - your Breast Care Nurse or Oncology Nurse can provide details. Local wig suppliers can help you choose a wig that is close to your hair colour and style. We lose a lot of heat via our heads - even in summer, so you may find that you'll feel cold so having a beanie for day and night time use is a good idea. The good news is that your hair will start growing again even before cessation of treatment. It will return initially as very fine, baby-fluff hair, and then grow out. Most women find their hair is as slightly different colour or grey and quite 'wiry' for some time until your natural hair colour and texture returns. This is sometimes referred to as “chemo curls”.
5. Will I still be able to have children and will I go into menopause? Many women want to know if they will be fertile after chemotherapy and this depends on age and the types of treatments and doses received. Women aged 30 or younger have the best chance of becoming pregnant after chemotherapy because the younger you are, the more likely it is that your ovaries will produce fertile eggs after chemotherapy. The closer in age to menopause (average is 51), the more likely it is that you'll be in menopause after chemotherapy and won't be able to become pregnant. Women 40 or older are more likely to be in menopause after chemotherapy. If you are concerned over how treatments may affect you, discuss this with your Oncologist. Read more about fertility options.
6. What will happen to my sex life? During treatment you may find that your desire for sex and intimacy decreases. This can be a normal side effect - and is understandable, given the stress, anxiety, fatigue and physical side effects associated with breast cancer and treatments. However, your partner may not understand how it is for you so communication is key. Let your partner know what you need from him or her. Talk, communicate, touch. You might not feel like having sex but cuddles and intimate touching could be just the ticket. Read more about relationships.
7. There is no history of breast cancer in my family - where did this come from?' It's normal to want to make sense of what has happened and part of that process is 'How did I get cancer?' For most of us, there's no rhyme or reason. 5-10% of all breast cancer diagnoses are genetic and there's more information on our site about family risk. The biggest risk factor of simply being a woman, is something we can do nothing about. Read more about family history.
8. I don't know how I'm going to get through this. What do I do?' The word 'cancer' carries with it a lot of associations. We remember people who've died from it and images of women who have lost their hair. Your cancer diagnosis may be one of the most challenging things to happen to you. It’s helpful to think of times in the past where you have got through tough times and utilise coping skills and experience gained from the past. Facing cancer does take strength and resilience - you may not know if you have the strength to get through - but you do. Don't be afraid to ask for help, or tell people what you need them to do for you. It can take two years or more for you to really understand what has happened. Knowing that at the outset may make the journey easier because you're not putting so much pressure on yourself to get better quickly, get back to work, get back to normal or get over it. More about coping
9. What is secondary breast cancer? Secondary (also known as advanced or metastatic) breast cancer is the 'late stage' of breast cancer where it has moved from the original site in the breast (known as the 'primary' tumour, or 'early stage' breast cancer) to other parts of the body or vital organs. At this stage the disease is incurable (at our present state of knowledge) and life expectancy ranges from 2-5 years, on average. Most commonly, secondary breast cancer develops in the bone, lung, liver, and brain and is managed by ongoing treatments of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal therapy. Find out more here.