How should my doctor explain my breast cancer diagnosis?

Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery
The medical oncologist and breast surgeon should explain your diagnosis in lay man terms and provide therapeutic options and surgical approaches. The specific type of cancer (i.e., ductal carcinoma, DCIS, lobular carcinoma) should be described, including grading and staging of the tumor. Chemotherapeutic agents should be discussed, including risk, benefits and side effects. Options for radiotherapy including long-term risks should be described. Finally, the oncological surgeon should discuss the best surgical approach for your case (lumpectomy with nodal dissection, mastectomy (modified, radical, skin sparing). 
Dede Bonner
Health Education

The best doctors don’t necessarily use the biggest words. What you needed was a simple explanation of your diagnosis and its implications in plain English, not fancy cancer jargon.

Explaining a woman’s breast cancer diagnosis is something that breast specialists do all the time. That means that your doctor should have had plenty of opportunities to practice and perfect his spiel before you walked into his office.

At minimum, your doctor should have showed you your X-rays and given you a copy of your pathology report while explaining the key sections and conclusions. The best doctors are skillful at explaining complex disease processes and treatment plans in simple language. Ideally, your doctor volunteered information that you may not have thought to ask for, such as the possibility of using complementary medicine or participating in a clinical trial, and given you additional sources of information about your type of breast cancer.

The 10 Best Questions for Surviving Breast Cancer: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

More About this Book

The 10 Best Questions for Surviving Breast Cancer: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

A good mind knows the right answers...but a great mind knows the right questions. And never are the Best Questions more important than after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Drawing on cutting-edge...

Continue Learning about Breast Cancer Diagnosis

If I'm at high risk for breast cancer, when should I begin screening tests?
Shelly WeissShelly Weiss
In the setting of BRCA mutation or family history of a BRCA mutation, young women are encouraged...
More Answers
Do all breast cancers require surgery?
Katharine Yao, MDKatharine Yao, MD
We sometimes avoid surgery in elderly patients with multiple medical problems who we know will n...
More Answers
Does Breast Cancer Screening Have Value?
Does Breast Cancer Screening Have Value?
Dr. Tom Ortmeier - Diagnosing Cancer
Dr. Tom Ortmeier - Diagnosing Cancer

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.