The stats about breast cancer are scary – with more than a quarter of a million diagnoses a year, a woman has a 1 in 8 (12.5%) chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. When your doctor breaks the news that you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s normal to be frightened. But women have more options than ever before to fight. Here are four important things to remember.
Survival rates are high, especially for early stages.
According to the American Cancer Society, patients in stages 0 and 1 have a 100% 5-year survival rate. Stage II patients have a 93% survival rate; stage III patients have 72%. Many other factors may affect a person’s outlook, such as age, current health, the presence of hormone receptors on the cancer cells, the treatment received, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 9 out of 10 breast cancer patients will pass the five-year survival mark. Your doctor can tell you how the numbers may apply to you, and work with you to develop a treatment plan with long-term goals, as he or she is familiar with your particular situation.
You may not need surgery.
Often after a breast cancer diagnosis, the patient wants the tumor removed as quickly as possible. Although this reaction is understandable, surgery is usually unnecessary. Speak to your doctor and explore all options for therapy depending on your situation. Although surgery can be a component of early breast cancer treatment, it does not always have to be the first step.
Gather a support team.
Hardly anyone is prepared for a breast cancer diagnosis, and while there’s no ideal time, it often strikes at the worst time when women are emotionally distracted with child-rearing or caring for elderly parents. It’s important to create a list of supporters who can offer both practical and emotional help. Family, friends, support groups of people who’ve overcome breast cancer, and clergy, can all provide encouragement. They can also be a source of child care, transportation to and from appointments, and other logistical assistance.
Even if you’ve never been diagnosed, those are things worth thinking about long before you find yourself in an emotional crisis.
Assemble your treatment team.
No matter where you go for treatment, make sure they offer a team approach to your care. The American Cancer Society offers an excellent checklist of things to consider before settling on a doctor or hospital. Your team should include a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. You want a team that has expertise in breast cancer care. Do your homework so you can find the best care available to you.
The good news is that in just one generation, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is up 15 percent and 90% survive five years or more after the initial diagnosis. Women are living longer, fuller lives after their diagnosis, and should approach every aspect of their care with a long-term plan in mind.