By Ifeoma O. Nwabuzor, M.D.
It can feel like being hit by a freight train. The conversation you have with your doctor to learn about your abnormal mammogram results can be one of the toughest of your life. However, an abnormal mammogram result does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. And if you do have breast cancer, it’s by no means a death sentence. Treatment options and outcomes have improved dramatically in recent years, ensuring that most women live long, happy and fulfilling lives after surviving breast cancer.
Close to 3 million women across the United States have a history of breast cancer and have gone through this conversation with their doctors. This year, another 300,000 women will go through it. While each of them will have a customized approach to treating their disease, what they experience in the first hours, days, and weeks after their diagnosis will be very similar.
Here’s what you can expect after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
You Will Learn Your Mammogram Results Are Abnormal
You will likely receive a phone call from your doctor’s office to let you know about your abnormal mammogram results. At this point, you will not need to ask any questions or make any decisions. You’ll schedule an appointment to speak with your doctor in person. At this appointment, you can ask questions about the steps you’ll need to take next, including going back to the radiologist.
You Will Have Another Visit with the Radiologist
You will also have another appointment with your radiologist, this time for an image-guided biopsy. Using a CT or an ultrasound, the radiologist will take a small amount of tissue from a precise spot on your breast to make an accurate diagnosis.
Your Doctor Will Help Dispel Common Myths
If the results of your biopsy indicate breast cancer, you’ll return to your doctor to learn about the treatment options that are right for you. Your doctor will also help to address your fears and dispel some of the most common myths around breast cancer, including:
- It automatically means you’re going to die: This is not true. In fact, over the last 60 years, breast cancer survival rates have tripled.
- You’ll need a mastectomy or double mastectomy: In nearly 80 percent of cases, a mastectomy is not needed. Other less invasive treatment options have similar success rates.
- You will need chemotherapy: Not every woman will need chemotherapy. It really depends on the characteristics of the tumor. For example, very large tumors or tumors that have spread outside of the breast may require chemotherapy.
- You can’t have breast cancer because it doesn’t run in your family: Most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.
You Will Learn About Treatment Options
Your doctor will explain more about breast cancer treatment options, which follow a two-pronged approach. It will start with treatment of the whole breast to gain local control over the cancer, either through a lumpectomy with radiation, or a mastectomy with reconstruction. The second approach depends on the type of tumor and whether or not your lymph nodes are involved. In some of these cases, chemotherapy may also be needed. After your biopsy, your doctor will have a good idea of which treatment is appropriate for you, and how long it will last.
While learning you have breast cancer is difficult, keep in mind that you are not alone. Your treatment team, family, friends and millions of women who have come before you are ready to lend their support.
About the Author
Dr. Nwabuzor specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN). She strives to provide excellent care and equip patients with information and tools to make the best decisions for their lives and families.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Nwabuzor, please call 610-521-4311.