Talking openly with your health care provider is one of the best ways to feel good about your breast cancer treatment decisions. When meeting with your provider, it is a good idea to bring a friend or loved one (co-survivor) with you who can help ask questions and discuss the answers later. It is likely that a lot of new information will be given to you at a time when you may already feel stressed or overwhelmed. Having an extra pair of ears may help recall and understand the information that was given. Recording the discussion on a cell phone, small tape recorder or other device can be helpful (even if someone can go with you to the appointment).
Whether you go alone or with someone, preparing a list of questions ahead of time (to take with you) is important. This can help you remember everything you want to ask and keep the discussion focused on the issues that are most important to you. For a list of helpful questions, see "Questions for Your Provider" throughout Understanding Breast Cancer or link to a list below.
Also, our Questions to Ask the Doctor series provides questions on a many breast cancer issues. Each card (17 total) has questions to discuss with your provider about a specific breast cancer topic. You can download and print the cards and take them with you to your next appointment. Plenty of space is provided to jot down answers to the questions. These topic cards are a helpful tool if you have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer or feel too overwhelmed to know where to begin to gather information.
Talking with a health care provider can be hard for some people. It often occurs in an unfamiliar and stressful situation, and some providers may be hurried or unskilled at answering questions. There are many resources to help make these discussions easier. We have outlined a series of steps to help you talk more effectively with your providers in our fact sheet “Talking with Your Doctor.” The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and American Cancer Society also have tips on talking with providers.
Below are links to the “Questions for Your Provider” sections in found throughout Understanding Breast Cancer to help you find the questions that relate to your situation.
Getting good care
Risk factors and prevention
Early detection and screening
Diagnosis of breast cancer
Types of treatment
Treatment options for breast cancer
Integrative and complementary therapies
Talking about family health history with your provider
Your family history of breast and other cancers is important to discuss with your health care provider. This information helps your provider understand your risk of breast cancer (and for survivors, your risk of breast cancer returning).
The Office of the Surgeon General and the National Human Genome Research Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services) created an online tool called “My Family Health Portrait” that you can use to create a chart of your family’s health history. This chart may be useful in discussions with your provider about your family history of breast cancer and/or other health conditions.
In September 2013, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) 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 improvements to fix shortcomings that add cost and burden to cancer care. In the U.S., there are about 14 million cancer survivors and more than 1.6 million new cases are diagnosed each year. By 2022, the IOM projects that there will be 18 million cancer survivors and, by 2030, cancer incidence is expected to rise to 2.3 million new diagnoses per year. Therefore, the IOM convened a committee of experts to examine the quality of cancer care in the U.S. and made recommendations for improvement. The committee concluded that the cancer care delivery system is in crisis due to a growing demand for cancer care, increasing complexity of treatment, a shrinking workforce and rising costs. Changes across the board are urgently needed to improve the quality of cancer care.
Susan G. Komen® endorses these recommendations as they have special significance in the breast cancer field. “Issues of accessibility, quality treatments and survivorship are especially complex for breast cancer patients, who may be treated for many years,” said Chandini Portteus, Komen’s Chief Mission Officer.
The report identified key ways to improve quality of care:
- Ensure that cancer patients are engaged and understand their diagnosis 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
The study was chaired by a Susan G. Komen Scholar Patricia Ganz, M.D., with participation by Komen’s Chief Scientific Advisor, George Sledge, M.D. Komen was one of 13 organizations sponsoring the study. Read the full report at www.nas.edu and www.iom.edu.