Not sure what to ask during your next appointment? Here are nine questions to consider about first-line therapy options.

There are a lot of ways to approach breast cancer treatment. Your doctor makes recommendations based on a variety of factors, including:

  • type of breast cancer
  • stage at diagnosis
  • your age
  • your overall health, including any other medical
  • whether this is a new diagnosis or a recurrence
  • previous treatments and how well you tolerated
  • your personal preferences

Why it matters: Because all breast cancers aren’t alike, neither are your treatment choices. Understanding the options available for your cancer can help you feel comfortable that you’re making a good decision.

When you have advanced breast cancer, your goals may be different than if you had early stage breast cancer. Some things to consider are:

  • how far your breast cancer has metastasized and
    which organs are affected
  • age
  • overall health

Basically, you want to understand the best-case scenario of this particular treatment. Is the goal to eradicate all the cancer? Shrink a tumor? Slow the spread of cancer? Treat pain and improve quality of life?

Why it matters: It’s important that your personal goals and your doctor’s goals are in sync. If they aren’t, have an honest conversation about expectations.

Each breast cancer treatment works differently.

For example, radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs seek out and destroy fast-growing cells, including cancer cells.

Some hormone therapies used to treat HR-positive (hormone receptor-positive) cancers stop your body from making estrogen. Some block hormones from attaching to cancer cells. Another blocks estrogen receptors on cancer cells, and then destroys the receptors.

Targeted drug therapies for HER2-positive (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive) breast cancers attack particular defects in cancer cells.

Your doctor can explain exactly how your particular therapy works to control cancer.

Why it matters: Living with breast cancer can be challenging. There’s a lot of information to take in, and knowing what to expect of your treatment can help.

Each breast cancer treatment can cause a particular set of negative side effects.

Radiation can cause:

  • skin irritation
  • fatigue
  • damage to nearby organs

Chemotherapy can cause:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue
  • hair loss
  • brittle fingernails and toenails
  • mouth sores or bleeding gums
  • increased risk of infection
  • premature menopause

Hormone therapy complications vary depending on the particular drug, and may include:

  • hot flashes or night sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • bone thinning (osteoporosis)
  • increased risk of blood clots and stroke

Targeted drug treatments for HER2+ breast cancers can cause:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • hand and foot pain
  • hair loss
  • fatigue
  • heart or lung problems
  • increased risk of infection

Your doctor can explain the most likely complications of the specific treatments you will be taking.

Why it matters: Complications can be frightening when you don’t anticipate them. Knowing some of the possibilities in advance can save you some anxiety.

You can deal with a few minor side effects, but others might interfere with your life. Certain medications may help alleviate some symptoms. These include:

  • pain medications
  • antinausea medications
  • skin lotions
  • mouth rinses
  • gentle exercises and complementary therapies

Your doctor can provide medication and advice for symptom management, or even refer you to a palliative care specialist.

Why it matters: If treatment is working and you can do something to make side effects more tolerable, you’ll be able to stick with your current treatment. If side effects become intolerable, you’ll have to consider alternatives.

You may not have to do anything to prepare, but you will want to know a few things that depend on the type of treatment.

For radiation treatment, you’ll want to ask:

  • How much time will each treatment session take?
  • What’s involved?
  • Will I be able to drive myself?
  • Do I need to prepare my skin in any way?

Regarding chemotherapy, you should get answers to the following:

  • How much time will each treatment take?
  • What’s involved?
  • Will I be able to drive myself?
  • Do I need to bring anything?
  • Will I need a chemo port?

Your oncology team can also provide tips on how to make yourself comfortable during and after this treatment.

Questions to ask your doctor about hormone and targeted therapies:

  • Is this an oral medication, injection, or infusion?
  • How often will I take it?
  • Do I need to take it at a certain time or with
  • Are there any potential drug interactions with
    my other medications?

Why it matters: Cancer treatment shouldn’t be something that just happens to you. By asking the right questions, you can be an active partner in your own treatment.

Living with breast cancer can affect every part of your life, from work to recreational activities to family relationships. Some treatments require a substantial time commitment and cause unpleasant side effects.

It’s vital to your well-being that your doctor understands your priorities.

Why it matters: If there are certain events or activities that are important to you, you want to have every opportunity to participate and enjoy them to the fullest.

It isn’t always easy to know if a cancer treatment is working right away. You can also develop resistance to some drugs over time.

Depending on your treatment, you may need periodic testing to see if it’s working. This may include:

  • imaging tests, such as an X-ray, CT scan, or bone
  • blood tests to find tumor markers
  • assessment of symptoms

Why it matters: If a particular treatment isn’t working, there’s no point in continuing, especially if you’re dealing with unpleasant side effects.

Cancer is complicated. The first-line treatment doesn’t always work, and changing treatments isn’t uncommon. It’s a good idea to know what your options are down the road.

Why it matters: There may be other things you can try. If you have advanced breast cancer, you may want to stop cancer treatment at some point. In this case, you can still continue with palliative, quality-of-life treatment.