Questions to Ask Before a Loved One Begins a New MBC Therapy

Treating MBC is an evolving process. Ask these important questions before your loved one begins a new therapy.

Nurse preparing an IV in the arm of a patient receiving metastatic breast cancer medication and treatment.

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) refers to cancer that began in breast tissue but has spread to other areas of the body. 

With MBC, the goals of treatment are to slow the progression of the cancer, alleviate symptoms being caused by the cancer, improve a person's quality of life, and help a person with MBC live a longer life. Treatment is an ongoing and evolving process, and people living with MBC may change therapies over the course of treatment. 

Making decisions about treatment can be challenging. As a caregiver, you can help. Here, we look at some questions that caregivers for people living with MBC may want to discuss with a loved one's healthcare providers when starting a new therapy. 

How does this therapy work? 

It's helpful to understand how a particular treatment aligns with treatment goals. There are a variety of therapies that are used to treat MBC and different therapies work in different ways. For example, chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer works by acting on quickly-dividing cells throughout the body, while endocrine therapies work by interfering with the effect estrogen can have on cancer cells. Other therapies, such as bone-modifying agents, help prevent complications that can result from having MBC. 

What side effects can this therapy cause? 

Mentioned above, quality of life is a major focus of a treatment plan for MBC. People with MBC, caregivers, and their healthcare providers should discuss the risk of side effects—and the potential impact of those side effects—when beginning a new therapy. Also ask about ways a person might be able to prevent or lessen side effects. 

How is the therapy taken and how often? 

Knowing the time and effort that a particular therapy involves is important to many people with MBC. Is the metastatic breast cancer medication given as an infusion or is it taken as a pill? If it is given as an infusion, how often is it needed, and how long do infusion sessions last? 

Will your loved one be able to take a break from this treatment? 

People with MBC can sometimes take a break from treatment if the cancer has gone into remission or is under control. Ask how long your loved one can expect to be taking this therapy and the likelihood that they will be able to take a break at some point in the future. 

How will you know if the therapy is working? 

Monitoring is an important aspect of any MBC treatment plan. Ask your healthcare provider what tests and appointments will be needed for a particular therapy and how often those tests and appointments will be needed. 

What does the therapy cost? 

Finances are another way that therapy for MBC can impact quality of life—and should not be overlooked. Many families affected by MBC experience financial hardship due to the cost of medical care and the fact that MBC can impact a person’s ability to work. There is even a term for this—financial toxicity. If finances are a concern, it is important to discuss the cost of therapy as well as the other costs associated with treatment, such as tests and appointments to monitor treatment progress. There may be payment assistance programs that can help cover the cost of therapy. 

Are there other treatment options? 

There are many different therapy options and combinations of therapy options for MBC. While it can be helpful to plan for success, it can also be helpful to know that other treatment options are available if a particular therapy does not work.

Article sources open article sources

UpToDate. "Patient education: Treatment of metastatic breast cancer (Beyond the Basics)." 
Johns Hopkins Medicine Breast Center. "Metastatic Breast Cancer." 
Living Beyond Breast Cancer. "Goals of Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer." 
Cancer.Net. "Breast Cancer - Metastatic: Types of Treatment." 
American Cancer Society. "Treatment of Stage IV (Metastatic) Breast Cancer." 
Susan G. Komen. "Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer." 
American Cancer Society. "How Chemotherapy Drugs Work." "Immunotherapy." 
Arielle Heeke, Maria Raquel Nunes, and Filipa Lynce. "Bone-Modifying Agents in Early-Stage and Advanced Breast Cancer." Current Breast Cancer Reports, 2018. Vol. 10, No. 4. "Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Choices." 
National Cancer Institute. "Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Your Treatment." 

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