The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Talking with Your Doctor

Talking openly with your doctor is one of the best ways to feel good about your breast cancer treatment decisions and your care.

Bring a family member or friend to your appointments

When meeting with your doctor, it’s a good idea to bring a family member or friend who can help ask questions and discuss the answers later. You’re likely to hear a lot of new information and you may feel overwhelmed.

Having an extra pair of ears may help recall and understand the information given.

If someone cannot be with you in person, ask if they can be there virtually, over the computer or phone.

Recording the discussion on a cell phone, small tape recorder or other device can be helpful (even if someone is with you at the appointment).

When talking with doctors is hard

Talking with doctors can be hard for some people. These can be unfamiliar and stressful situations, and some doctors may be hurried or unskilled at answering questions.

There are many resources to help make these discussions easier. We have tips to help you talk with your doctors more effectively in our fact sheet “Talking with Your Doctor.”

The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and American Cancer Society also have tips on talking with doctors.

Whether you go alone or with someone, preparing a list of questions ahead of time is important. Take the questions with you to your appointment. This can help you remember everything you want to ask and keep the discussion focused on the issues most important to you.

There may also be new cancer terms and medical words you haven’t heard before. Ask your doctor to explain anything you don’t understand.

We have lists of questions related to many topics in the “Questions for Your Provider” sections below.

Getting high-quality care

Risk factors and risk reduction

Early detection and screening

Diagnosis of breast cancer

Treatment

Types of treatment

Treatment options for breast cancer

Complementary and integrative therapies

Survivorship topics

Questions to Ask Your Doctor resources

Susan G. Komen® has a series of Questions to Ask Your Doctor resources that may be helpful if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or if you have concerns about breast cancer screening or your risk of breast cancer.

You can download and print these resources and take them with you to your next doctor appointment. There’s plenty of space to write down the answers to these questions, which you can refer to later.

All hospitals and medical centers should provide medical interpreters for people who are limited-English speakers or non-English speakers.

Medical interpreters should be available for most languages and are free-of-charge to the patient. These services may be in person or over the telephone.

Use a trained medical interpreter

It’s best to use a trained medical interpreter rather than a family member or friend. Trained interpreters can explain complex medical terms and procedures that may not be familiar to non-medical people, even if they are fluent in a language.

Friends and loved ones may also have an emotional response to the information given by a health care provider. This may affect how they give the information to the patient.

Talking with your doctor about your treatment plan

Your breast cancer treatment plan is based on both medical and personal choices. Together, you and your health care provider make treatment decisions to fit the goals of your care. This is called shared decision-making.

After you get a recommended treatment plan from your provider, take time to study your treatment options. Talk to those closest to you. Consider getting a second opinion.

Make thoughtful, informed decisions that are best for you. Each treatment option has risks and benefits to consider along with your own values and lifestyle.

Your treatment is tailored to:

  • Your specific breast cancer (the biology of the tumor)
  • The stage of the breast cancer
  • Your overall health, age and other medical issues
  • Your personal preferences

Because of the differences between tumors and between people, your treatment plan may differ from someone else’s, even though you both have breast cancer.

Talking about family health history with your doctor

Your family history of breast cancer and other cancers is important to discuss with your doctor. This information helps your doctor understand your risk of breast cancer (and for those diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk of breast cancer returning).

Susan G. Komen®‘s My Family Health History Tool

My Family Health History tool is a web-based tool that makes it easy for you to record and organize your family health history. It can help you gather information that’s useful as you talk with your doctor or genetic counselor.

 

In 2013, the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Sciences (formerly the Institutes of Medicine) released a set of recommendations (below) on improving cancer care in the U.S.

The report Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis recommends ways to fix shortcomings that add cost and burden to cancer care. Susan G. Komen was one of 13 organizations that sponsored this study.

The report identified key ways to improve quality of care:

  • Ensure cancer patients are engaged and understand their diagnoses so they can make informed treatment decisions with their health care providers 
  • Develop a trained and coordinated workforce of cancer professionals 
  • Focus on evidence-based care, using information technology to provide better information about the potential benefits of treatments 
  • Focus on quality measurements 
  • Provide accessible and affordable care for all

Read the full report.