There are a number of different approaches to treating metastatic breast cancer. Each person will have a different approach because everyone is unique and every cancer is unique. Most treatment decisions depend on where the cancer has come back, the characteristics of the cancer (such as hormone-receptor status and HER2 status), and which treatments you have had before, including:
- type of surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy)
- type of lymph node removal (sentinel node or axillary dissection)
- type and amount of radiation therapy
- type and amount of chemotherapy
- type and amount of targeted therapy
You and your doctor need to be in agreement about the approach to your care. Let your doctor know how aggressive you want to your treatment to be. For example, your doctor may recommend very aggressive treatment that may have severe side effects. You may want a less aggressive treatment with fewer side effects. If you’re in pain, pain control may be your number one concern. Open, clear communication with your doctor is important as you develop a treatment plan that honors your feelings and decisions. Listen carefully to your doctor, and at the same time, make sure you’re being heard.
Tell your doctor exactly what’s important to you regarding treatment — whether it’s quality of life, pain control, or being as aggressive as possible. Talk about the risks and benefits of each treatment choice. Listen to your doctor’s recommendations and then, together, develop a plan.
Remember that you can change your mind about your treatment choices. You may want to alter your treatment plan depending on how you feel, how treatment is affecting your daily life, family issues, and financial concerns. Your treatment plan isn’t written in stone. You can talk to your doctor about changing it at any time.
Things to consider when making treatment choices for metastatic breast cancer:
- How aggressive do you want to be? Do you want to push the envelope and try any and all treatments that may stop the cancer from growing?
- What is your general overall health? Can you tolerate more aggressive treatment?
- How important are quality of life issues? Are you willing to put up with side effects that may reduce your quality of life?
- How important is pain control?
- Are you willing to participate in a clinical trial?
- Do you have health insurance? Is the cost of treatment a concern for you?
- Do you have a support network of people who can help you with day-to-day activities if you need it?
- What’s the best way for your medical team to talk to you? Do you want direct, straightforward scientific information about your health? Or do you prefer a softer approach?