Breast cancer can require both surgical and ongoing medical treatment. It’s important for women to understand what their options are for surgery, or why a particular surgery or treatment may have been recommended.
As a younger women diagnosed with breast cancer, you may feel pressured to make a range of decisions quite quickly. Decisions around the risk of early onset menopause and whether or not to preserve your fertility. Whether to have reconstructive surgery and what type. What impact if any treatment for breast cancer could have on your pregnancy. Well-meaning family, friends and colleagues may try to give advice but it's always best to discuss all treatment options with your medical team before making decisions.
Knowing what questions to ask your specialists and making sure you understand the information they provide to you, will help you make informed decisions about your treatment and care. The treatment may be local (i.e. used to remove or destroy the cancer within the breast and surrounding areas) or systemic (i.e. they treat the whole body).
If breast cancer surgery is recommended, here are some questions you may wish to ask your Surgeon. You'll find information on breast reconstruction here. Some women choose to wait before having reconstructive surgery while others have it done at the same time as their mastectomy. Download this 'Surgical options' leaflet here.
If chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal and/or targeted therapy is recommended as part of your treatment, find out more here. Also consider these questions to ask your Oncologist. Find out more about treatment in this download 'After surgery' leaflet.
Understanding your pathology report
Your breast cancer was most likely diagnosed through a biopsy. Pre and post-surgical information about your cancer is recorded in pathology reports.
After surgery, the cancer tumour will be analysed and your Specialist will discuss the results (in the pathology report) with you. The report will include information on the type and stage of your breast cancer and your specialist should explain what this means for you. Ask your Specialist for a copy of your pathology report.
There may be terms you're unfamiliar with and it's important that you understand the terminology, so ask questions.
HER2 positive breast cancer
Your pathology report will contain information on your HER2 status and whether HER2 is playing a role in your cancer. There are two tests for HER2 and results on your pathology report will show which test you had. Knowing which one you've had is important when discussing whether specific treatment is needed.
If you have been diagnosed with a HER2 positive breast cancer, then there are some other treatment options available for you, including Herceptin.
'Receptor positive breast cancer' and 'triple negative breast cancer'
Your pathology report will include the results of a hormone receptor test that determines whether the breast cancer cells have receptors for the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Hormone receptors are proteins found in and on breast cells that pick up hormone signals telling the cells to grow. Most breast cancers are hormone receptor positive.
About 10% of breast cancers are 'triple negative' , meaning the breast cancer cells are 'hormone-receptor-negative' for oestrogen receptors (ER-), progesterone receptors (PR-), and HER2 (HER2-). This means that cancer growth is not supported by these hormones or HER2 receptors, and as a result, triple negative breast cancers do not respond to treatments used for receptor positive breast cancers. However, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy are very effective against all breast cancers. So even though hormonal therapies cannot be used to treat triple negative breast cancer, you'll be receiving the best treatments available for your cancer.