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New Breast Cancer Diagnosis: What You Need to Know Before Starting Treatment

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Updated September 19, 2010

Starting Your Journey – Facing a Breast Cancer Diagnosis:

You've found a lump or a problem with your breast skin or nipple, and have done the smart thing – you've had a mammogram, perhaps an ultrasound, and a breast biopsy. At the end of that detour from your normal routine, you were told, "You have breast cancer."

Your mind and emotions may be in a whirl as you react on different levels to the news, the unfamiliar medical terms, and many decisions you are facing. Perhaps you have many questions: Will I survive this? Why all these other tests? How can I choose the best treatment? How does this affect my family? Can I afford treatment?

Be Prepared and Informed:

Before you continue on this journey, you need to get as much information about your overall diagnosis as possible. Start a good habit right now: Keep good medical records and get copies of all your test results. Having that information will help you see the big picture and make good treatment choices. Remember that a diagnosis of breast cancer is rarely a 'death sentence.' When caught and treated at an early stage, your chances of long-term survival are very good. Fighting breast cancer isn't easy, but you can gather a support team, educate yourself, and then take on what's to come with confidence.

Initial Breast Cancer Diagnosis:

Your initial diagnosis comes from your breast biopsy results. A mammogram and an ultrasound help alert your doctor to the possibility of cancer, but since 80% of breast lumps are benign, only a biopsy yields a clear diagnosis. Your biopsy report provides some general information about your breast abnormality, but it doesn't give your complete diagnosis. An initial diagnosis tells you if your cancer is non-invasive (i.e. ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS), or if it is invasive breast cancer. Many other details will be needed before you and your doctor can decide what treatments will work best for you.

Your Comprehensive Diagnosis :

Breast cancer is a complex disease, with many characteristics and variations. In order to get the most accurate picture of your particular cancer, you may need to have a core biopsy or an open surgical biopsy to produce enough tissue for a pathologist to fully examine. Once this is done, your pathologist will write a detailed pathology report about your cancer. This pathology report, along with other critical details about size, hormone status, tumor grade, and stage, will combine to produce your comprehensive breast cancer diagnosis.

Learn More Before You Start Treatment:

When your initial biopsy results are in and breast imaging studies (MRI, ultrasound, mammograms, etc.) are complete, it's time to make decisions about surgery, radiation and systemic therapy. In most cases, you won't have to start any form of treatment right away, so take time to learn and sift through your options. Talk with your doctors, perhaps get a second opinion, and ask many questions. Find a support group and learn from other survivors. Here are some topics you will want to learn more about:
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