Tag Archive for: breast cancer diagnosis

How Is Breast Cancer Explained to Newly Diagnosed Patients?

How Is Breast Cancer Explained to Newly Diagnosed Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s important for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to know? Expert Dr. Demetria Smith-Graziani shares how she explains breast cancer to her patients and advice to patients to help ensure their optimal care.

Demetria Smith-Graziani, MD, MPH is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Smith-Graziani.


“…ask your doctor about what type of breast cancer you have and what cells that your breast cancer came from.”

Download Guide  |   Descargar Guía en Español

See More from [ACT]IVATED Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

What is High-Risk Breast Cancer?
An Overview of Breast Cancer Subtypes | Tips for Being Proactive
Noted Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Disparities In Breast Cancer Outcomes

Noted Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Disparities In Breast Cancer Outcomes


Lisa Hatfield:

Dr. Smith, how do you explain breast cancer to your newly diagnosed patients, knowing that they probably have heard about breast cancer or may even know somebody who has been impacted by breast cancer, this is your newly diagnosed patient, how do you explain that in detail with them?

Dr. Demetria Smith-Graziani:

So breast cancer starts when normal cells in the body or in the breast develop mutations that are changes in their DNA, and those changes caused them to grow and divide out of control. So the most common types of breast cancer come from the cells in the milk ducts, or the cells in the glands that make milk, and when the cancer starts in the cells of the milk ducts, we call it ductal cancer, when the cancer starts in the cells that make the milk, those glands, we call it lobular cancer. So my activation tip is to ask your doctor about what type of breast cancer you have and what cells that your breast cancer came from.

Share Your Feedback:

Create your own user feedback survey

Thriving Not Just Surviving: A Breast Cancer Expert’s Perspective

Thriving Not Just Surviving: A Breast Cancer Expert’s Perspective from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can breast cancer patients not just survive but thrive? Expert Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy shares actionable patient advice to strive toward optimal health while living with breast cancer.

Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy is the Section Chief of Breast Medical Oncology and the Director of the Medical Oncology Fellowship Program in Breast Cancer at The Ohio State College of Medicine. Learn more about this expert here.

See More from Thrive Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?

Why Should Breast Cancer Patients Engage in Care Decisions?



We start all of our Thrive Series with the same question. In your experience, what does it mean to thrive with breast cancer?

Dr. Ramaswamy:          

That’s a great question. I think it’s an important one because we always talk about surviving breast cancer, and that’s obviously the most important thing. We all want to survive, but we all also want more than that. We don’t want to just live, we want quality of life.  

And I think one thing that to remember is as soon as the breast cancer diagnosis is done, it’s in part – it’s difficult to say that you can thrive immediately. So, your focus is on really getting through the treatments and making sure it’s all done. So, at that time, managing the toxicities and getting through the stresses of going through the treatments and surgery, radiation, et cetera takes  over everything else. But as you finish that off you, you want to focus on what are the ways you can try to get back to the life that you had prior to breast cancer.

Now it’s difficult and it’s almost impossible to forget the big C word in your life. So, that’s going to hang and that’s going to kind of make anything you look at your perspective as slightly different. I mean, every pain could be worrisome because could it be a reference? Has the cancer spread? Or every bad news about another person could you, could transport that about yourself and then kind of worry about what could happen to you.

Every visit to the doctor, and particularly your oncologist, is going to   bring back memories. So, there are certain things that you can’t take away, but time can heal those. But what we talk about thriving is that you looking at factors that is going to make you and your body healthy. That is going to be exercise, being engaged in  whether your work or your family work and being joyful and seek what brings you joy, whether it’s friends, your work or your family.

And make sure you make time for that. And also eating right and diet is an important aspect of that. Not doing inflammatory diets such as highly fatty diets or meat-containing diet, but really kind of looking at your diet and your weight and your exercise. And trying to also discuss with your team about what are the symptoms you are having and how we can support you to mitigate those   symptoms. And really having conversations and somebody you can confide with to both manage your physical aspects as well as the emotional aspects.

And really kind of thriving and becoming   an advocate for yourself as well as for others who have breast cancer is what I would say is truly thriving with breast – with the diagnosis of breast cancer.

What Is One Thing (Or More) You’d Like to Say to a Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patient?

As we enter the final days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am remembering a time over a decade ago, when immersed in a sea of pink ribbons I felt part of something. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer as the month of September turned into October and surrounded by Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities I felt supported as a newly diagnosed patient.

But as the last days of October faded and the pink ribbon wearers began to disappear, I was left wearing the everyday reality of a disease that I still felt ill-equipped to bear. I still feel a sense of sadness today at all that I had yet to learn and go through on my journey with breast cancer.  I often wonder how much easier that path might have been had I known then what I know now.

One thing I know for sure is that those of us who have traveled this road can ease the way for others who are just starting out. In this spirit, I reached out to the breast cancer community to ask them what advice they would give to a newly diagnosed person with breast cancer.  You will find their responses below alongside some of my own.

Find Support

Cancer research advocate and 20+ year breast cancer survivor, Lisa DeFerrari [1] emphasizes the important role of support. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for support early on,” she advises. “I realize that many of us are very independent-minded – I certainly am,” she says, “but breast cancer and learning how to deal with it are complicated and there are lots of great resources out there. Reaching out for information and support can also be a way to recover from the sense of loss of control that often comes with a cancer diagnosis.”

To this cancer blogger, Megan-Claire Chase [2] adds, “let go of your pride. Don’t be afraid to start a GoFundMe. You’d be amazed by people’s generosity to pay your medical bills and regular bills.”

Ask Questions

“Ask questions and push for information,” recommends Julia [3] creator of #BCCWW breast cancer Twitter chat. “For people living with long term conditions and disabilities before breast cancer it is valid to worry about the consequences of cancer and the risks of treatment on your wider health,” she adds.  “Don’t let anyone invalidate those concerns with ‘but cancer’  – it’s your body and health,  it’s you that has to bear the possible risks and potential consequences of both.   So make sure they’re centered to the degree you need them to be.”

Diagnosed with late-stage invasive lobular breast cancer in 2015, Siobhan Freeney [4] who campaigns for essential breast screening and early detection of breast cancer for women with dense breasts, urges women to ask about their breast density even after a diagnosis, as this is important information because It will influence their surveillance imaging. Siobhan highlights the fact that “many women diagnosed with breast cancer don’t know anything about dense breasts and associated risk factors.

Be Your Own Advocate

Although you may be reeling from the news of a cancer diagnosis, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and what treatment options are available.  Siobhan advises taking time to absorb what’s just happened and then take notes at meetings and consultations. “Find out as much as you can about your particular cancer and speak up,” she recommends. “Ask for MRI, PET, CT any baseline scans available to you. Find reliable, evidence-based information.”

Jo Taylor [5] founder of After Breast Cancer Diagnosis stresses the need to be your own advocate. “Be your own advocate – try to understand what type of breast cancer it is and ask questions and research it. Always ask for copies of scans and details. Then find your community who support you and you can support them.”

Employment Advice

Megan-Claire offers this advice for those who are working full time at the time of diagnosis “Talk with your manager or direct supervisor and work out a plan where you can work from home (if not already due to COVID) and work out a schedule for coverage when your chemo treatment starts.” She also offers two practical tips when undergoing chemotherapy: “I suggest getting your chemo on Fridays so you’ll have the weekend to rest,” and “ask your oncologist for a temporary handicap sign. It helped me immensely due to deep fatigue.”

Tackle Fatigue

As Megan-Claire mentions, fatigue is an issue that cancer patients face. We all know what it’s like to feel tired — physically, mentally, and emotionally, but usually, after some relaxation and a good night’s sleep, we are ready to take on the world again. When you have cancer, though, rest often isn’t enough. You experience persistent, whole-body exhaustion. Even after adequate sleep or rest, you will still feel tired and unable to do the normal, everyday activities you did before with ease. A lot of cancer patients don’t report fatigue to their doctors because they think that nothing can be done about it. In fact, there are things that can be done to alleviate the debilitating effects of cancer-related fatigue. If left untreated, fatigue may lead to depression and profoundly diminish your quality of life, so it’s important that you speak to your doctor if fatigue is an issue for you [6].

Journal Your Thoughts

It is amazing how quickly you forget what you thought and felt in those early days of diagnosis and treatment. Megan-Claire recommends keeping a journal to note down your thoughts. “It could just be a sentence or two and either save them on your laptop or in a journal,” she recommends. “There was a lot I forgot about and was glad I had my little notes from the start of treatment to look back on.”

Honor Your Grief

One of the things you might like to journal about is the feelings of loss and grief you will experience with a cancer diagnosis. While many people think of grief only as a reaction to bereavement, we can feel grief after any kind of loss. Some of our losses are tangible, for example losing our hair, and some are more intangible, such as the loss of trust in our bodies. Coping with the losses associated with cancer is challenging. Grief brings many emotions with it. Patients, as well as caregivers and family members, may go through emotions of anger, denial, and sadness [7].

Respect the diagnosis; question the prognosis

This final piece of advice comes from Betsy Mullen [8]. “Respect the diagnosis; question the prognosis,” she says. “I was diagnosed with a grade III triple-negative breast cancer and given 2-3 years to live at best. That was 29 years ago.”

To Wrap Up

Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing event. Know that you will go through many emotions and experiences on the roller-coaster ride of diagnosis, treatment and beyond.  Each person will experience the journey in their own way.  While there’s no right or way to go through the experience, it’s important as mentioned above that you find support. Reach out at each step of the way and find someone who understands what you are going through and can offer you the support you need.


[1] Lisa DeFerrari Finding Great Support After a Cancer Diagnosis

[2] Megan-Claire Chase Life On The Cancer Train

[3] BCCWW https://twitter.com/bccww

[4] Siobhan Freeney https://beingdense.com

[5] Jo Taylor abcdiagnosis.co.uk

[6] How To Cope With Cancer-Related Fatigue

[7] Grief, Loss, and the Cancer Experience

[8] Betsy Mullen https://twitter.com/betsymullen

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: Stacy’s Clinical Trial Profile

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: Stacy’s Clinical Trial Profile from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Triple-negative breast cancer patient Stacy was diagnosed by a breast cancer surgeon she works with. Watch as she shares her journey through diagnosis, her decision to join a clinical trial, her experience with treatment, and her current feelings about clinical trials.

See More from Patient-to-Patient Diverse Breast Cancer Clinical Trial Profiles



I was diagnosed by a medical provider that I work for, she’s a breast surgeon, and once I was diagnosed, because I’m in the environment of breast surgeons and breast multi-discipline providers, my care was probably handled a little differently. So, I was referred to an oncologist who then introduced me to the clinical, the breast clinical trial that was available. I actually didn’t have a lot of questions except for will it help others? And he said it would, it’s for triple-negative diagnosed patients. The trial is an additional drug that helps with the triple-negative, and it has been provided by the FDA. So, because of that, I was willing to do it. My only pushback was that the treatment was every week compared to it being every two weeks or three weeks. The first phase…for me was…I had no problems with it. Actually, after treatment, I was up for 48 hours, which allowed me to do a lot of things – house work, part-time job, working remotely, it just afforded me things that I would not be able to do for being tired.

I always have had my screens, and I’ve had diagnostic mammograms and they always came back normal, so negative. And this particular time, I had Dr. Hampton to just look at it, it just felt like a cyst. I wasn’t really concerned with it. So Dr. Hampton did look at it, we thought initially that it was a cyst and not infected, but two weeks later that what felt soft then became very hard and round, oval-shaped. I was just…in two weeks, it was already hard. So I said, okay, so I had her to look at it again, and from there she said, You need to have this worked up.” And then from there, I went and had another diagnostic mammogram, and the next day I was scheduled for a biopsy by the top radiologist. And he said, “Stacy, I think that you need to have an MRI.”

Right, and so I had an MRI, had a CAT scan, all that was done within two weeks, and they tell me that I had cancer. Dr. Hampton…this is kind of funny because the staff scheduled my appointment, as I am the manager of the breast center. They scheduled my appointment. I met with her, and she let me know that I was triple-negative and that it would require chemo as well as radiation and surgery. The following week, I was scheduled for chemo.

Once I spoke with the oncologist, he said he employed me to look up the trial, and it would be beneficial to others. I initially was not that excited about the trial, I reached out to others who were triple-negative here in our office to ask and what they thought about it. One of the patients/friend, she already knew of the trials, she gave me three different trials that were going on right now. And one of them happened to be the one that he suggested that I should participate in, and she just basically said we would be helping…that I will be helping others to participate in it. So I thought about it for about two or three days, and then I decided to participate in it. Now initially, I wasn’t so keen on it, but after hearing about helping others and that it was mostly, I was told that it was almost like a miracle, medicine that helped triple-negative. And I decided to do it.

During my trial, the lump that I felt once I started on a trial treatment in three weeks, the lump was gone. And each week it wasn’t completely, but it reduced itself in three weeks. And as I continue with the treatment, we couldn’t feel it. I had my provider that I was seeing, the oncologist, and each week it was almost like it was gone, it was totally amazing because prior to that, it probably…it felt like the size of maybe a large, grape, but it just in three weeks, it was totally a big difference. So, I know that the trial is good. It has to be because in three weeks or something that I’m thinking probably grew in six weeks, whereas I was able to feel it, I couldn’t feel it anymore, and that three to four, it was gone.

So prior to being diagnosed, there were a multitude of things that I did not know. Working for a breast surgeon, where we see those patients and then becoming one of those diagnosed patients are totally two different things. What I thought I knew, it became apparent that I didn’t know, and there were things like the metallic taste that you have in your mouth, you can no longer use metals, anything, utensils…you have to use plasticware. The neuropathy that you feel in your hands, it’s hard to pick up anything that’s metal, the feeling just kind of goes through your hand, that means keys, that’s a door knob, you just have to kind of suck it up and do what you have to. The tiredness, but they don’t let you know that you’ll feel exhausted. That’s totally different from tired. So once you’re diagnosed, you have to see a multitude of providers, specialists, you have imaging that’s done, and the team that I have had done most of that for me, so I have a great support team.

Life today is, I have my up and down days, for the most part, my days are good. Once I have my treatment, my first phase went so well, I wasn’t tired. I was still doing things that I normally do with the exception that I had gained a lot of weight. So my second trial started about four weeks ago, and it hit me very hard, I was so exhausted, I have never in my life been that exhausted, that…taking two steps, and I felt like I had ran a marathon. With me being so independent and knowing or wanting to be around my team, I forced myself to come into work, and the second trial also brought on bone pain, muscle pain, headaches, and again, I was just totally exhausted from it.

What you have experienced or endured at the time, during a clinical trial and expressing it, it can only help the next person. But, in essence, I think the clinical trial is not in that only to help someone else, but it’s also to help you…I think the knowledge of just knowing that you’re a part of something that could be enhanced or approved or just help you with your health is a plus. So, working with a breast surgeon and working with multi-discipline providers that’s on the team, oncology radiology, technologist, and seeing the impact that it has on patients, I wanted to participate in the trial because again, I knew that it would help people. So just being a part of that environment definitely impacted my decision in participating in the trial. With the scientific studies that they have out there with the trial, it can only make the research for us better.  

Will Telemedicine Be an Equalizer for Patients Experiencing Bias?

Will Telemedicine Be an Equalizer for Patients Experiencing Bias? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Some breast cancer patients may experience in-person bias during visits. Expert Dr. Regina Hampton from Luminis Health Doctors Community Hospital explains her perspective on situations when telemedicine can provide benefit to the patient experience.  

See More from the Breast Cancer TelemEDucation Resource Center

Related Resource:


Dr. Regina Hampton:

Yeah, I think it takes away that, that in-person bias that that providers may have, you can kind of put on whatever you want and put on your face, and then I think that gives some providers just a different view of who that person is without looking at them in-person. And creating that judgment that we all do, we all do it, and that’s just a part of human nature. But I think it’s great for those patients who…I have a lot of patients who are caregivers where they’re caring for their elderly patient, and they can’t leave that patient alone. Well, they can continue to do their doctor’s visit provided they don’t need a physical exam and be able to keep that. It may be helpful for that patient who is stuck at home, it allows them that access. So I think it does help to decrease the barriers, especially for patients who may live in a rural area, who may not be able to travel back and forth to the big city to see their doctor, and being able to jump on a telemedicine visit to be able to get their concerns heard, and then they can figure out if they need an in-person visit, so I think it’s just going to open up the world. 

I think it will give those patients more access, and hopefully it will help to just break down some of these barriers that we see as we move forward. 

Is Telemedicine an Advantage for Low-Risk Breast Cancer Patients?

Is Telemedicine an Advantage for Low-Risk Breast Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 For low-risk breast cancer patients, is telemedicine an advantage? Expert Dr. Regina Hamptonfrom Luminis Health Doctors Community Hospital shares her views on when telemedicine makes sense for low-risk patients and the benefits she’s seen for patients’ quality of life.

See More from the Breast Cancer TelemEDucation Resource Center

Related Resource:


Dr. Regina Hampton:

I think it helps to eliminate a lot of those in-person visits, which then means they can enjoy life. We want them to enjoy life after surviving their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. So maybe they’re doing their televisit while they’re on vacation or while they’re out of the state, visiting with relatives. So it really allows them to be able to stay in tune and in touch with their healthcare providers, stay on top of their visits, but allow them the flexibility to continue to live life. I often tell patients, “Look, after we’ve treated you, we don’t want you in our offices all the time. We want you out there living life.” And if we can make that easier by doing a quick tele visit, especially if there’s not something serious going on, then I think that’s a great advantage. And I think as we move deeper and deeper into the telemedicine world, I think patients are going to appreciate that, and they’re going to actually demand it and say, “Well, you know, I’m doing fine, I just need you to look at my mammogram and us to have a quick discussion while on a cruise or while I’m on the beach in Hawaii enjoying some time with my family.” So, I think it’s opened up a new world, and it’s just going to get better and more easy, and I think patients are going to shift their brains to say, “You know, if I don’t have to be in an office somewhere, I’d rather be on a video or a phone visit.

Which Breast Cancer Patients Benefit Most From Telemedicine Visits?

Which Breast Cancer Patients Benefit Most From Telemedicine Visits? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Regina Hampton  from Luminis Health Doctors Community Hospital provides her perspective on care situations when patients can benefit the most from telemedicine – and when in-person visits can provide an advantage.

See More from the Breast Cancer TelemEDucation Resource Center

Related Resource:


Dr. Regina Hampton:

So, I think when we look at new patients, newly diagnosed, I think an in-person visit is certainly advantageous, I think people certainly want to meet their doctor in-person, what I found personally is after that initial visit, then we’ll convert the rest of the visits by telemedicine. As the patient is willing, if they want to come in, I’m happy to have them come in, where I think it’s really beneficial is in survivorship after the patient has gone through treatment, and she may still be following with her medical oncologist, because she’s on hormonal therapy. Or she may be on some form of chemotherapy, and maybe she wants for me to be able to take a look at her mammogram. Well, I can still do that because I can remotely access those films, and then we could do that television, and if she’s not expressing any concerns, then we can do that as a television, so this helps, especially for those patients in survivorship where they’re not going to three and four different doctors on a regular basis. They’re going to that one doctor, they’re getting that in-person visit, and then some of the other providers are part of the team can maybe move theirs to telemedicine visits, so again, I think it helps to keep patients with that connection to some of those without again, having the burden of taking time off of work, having to arrange childcare, they can do those other visits by telemedicine. And that’s something new that we weren’t doing pre-COVID, patients were having to come into the office and see every single provider for every six months for the first two to three years after their diagnosis, so I think that really has made it more convenient for the patients, and it’s really allowed us to really streamline our operations on the provider side, which then allows us to be able to serve more patients.  

What Steps Can Breast Cancer Patients Take To Be More Proactive?

What Steps Can Breast Cancer Patients Take To Be More Proactive? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What steps can breast cancer patients take to be more proactive in their care? When is it appropriate to voice concerns? Dr. Regina Hampton offers advice for patients and loved ones how to work towards achieving optimal care.

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program

Related Programs:

How Can Breast Cancer Patients Connect to Patient-Centered Care?


Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Are there some other practices or key steps that patients can take so that they have a proactive approach in their healthcare and that they can feel more confident in voicing some of these concerns when they’re communicating with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think it’s important to have a support person. And that could be a family member, it could be a neighbor, it could be your best friend. Doesn’t always have to be family, sometimes it’s better to have somebody who’s not family, because sometimes a family, they get you know they get emotionally involved and we get that, but I think it’s important to have another pair of ears because especially when you get a new diagnosis, you’re not going to hear everything, and I know patients. The second somebody says, cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, they just shut down. That’s it. They’re not going to hear. You could tell them, I have a million dollars for you, they’re not hearing you, they’re not going to follow the directions to go get that million dollars because they just have shut down, and even at that second visit, they still are just sort of…I call it the whomp, whomp, whomp. They see my mouth moving, but they’re not really hearing the words, but if they have another support person who can be there to record the conversation, who can take notes, even in the era of telemedicine, somebody can dial in to listen. I’ve been doing family meetings and people have been on the West Coast, or somebody couldn’t get off the work, but there was somebody there who could hear that information, I think that’s so important, and especially as we get more seasoned, Mom and Dad, sometimes they are a little in denial on the information that they can take in, but so important to be there in some form, and with telemedicine, it makes it quite easy to get another pair of ears in the room. 

Absolutely, you are speaking my language, Dr. Hampton, I’m telling you, because the other thing that I always recommend is for patients to have a buddy, and like you said, that may be a family member, it may be a best friend, it may be someone in your church, but I think the studies  say that something somewhere around 30 percent to 40 percent is all that we retain when we go to the doctor’s office, and so like you said, especially if you’re getting bad news, a lot of that information goes out of your brain, and so it’s so important to have a back-up person and that person can sit and take notes, and sometimes they can even remind you of some of the questions that you may have had or some of your concerns, I really, really appreciate you bringing that up.  

 I think it’s also important to take a deep breath, I find people get a cancer diagnosis and they want to just rush through everything. Well, in most cases, cancer doesn’t spread that fast, but there are a lot of decisions to make, and you really should take that time to hear all the options, may need to get a second or third opinion so that you really can make good decisions, you can’t make good decisions if you’re fearful, just can’t do it.  

How Can Breast Cancer Providers and Patients Help Address BIPOC Disparities?

How Can Breast Cancer Providers and Patients Help Address BIPOC Disparities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Can breast cancer providers and patients help address BIPOC disparities? Dr. Regina Hampton provides insight on differences she’s seen with BIPOC patients moving forward after diagnosis and ways patients can empower themselves toward receiving optimal care. 

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program

Related Programs:

What Steps Can Breast Cancer Patients Take To Be More Proactive?


Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Dr. Hampton, you mentioned that you in practice have seen differences in the way that your white patients handle their breast cancer diagnosis compared to your Black patients, and I was wondering if you’d be willing to expand on that just a little bit, what are some of those differences that you’ve seen between those two groups? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

So, I noticed that in the white women that I’ve diagnosed, that they just seem to take the diagnosis and are ready to jump on board, ready to move forward with treatment and figuring out what needs to be done. And I’ve found with my African American women, it just, it takes a little bit longer explaining, trying to get them to understand the how, the why, what we’re getting ready to do, and even with that explanation, there’s still some hesitancy. And so, I’m curious to know what is that and why is that? And really hear from the patient’s perspective.   

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s really interesting because, of course, right now in the midst of the pandemic, that just mirrors what we’re seeing with COVID-19 vaccination, and I wonder if what you’re seeing with your African American patients with breast cancer has to do with mistrust, and what we talked about just related to some of the history regarding the treatment of people of color by the health care system and racism and bias, do you think that there’s a level of mistrust of the healthcare system that may be playing into some of that reluctance that you’re seeing? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

Absolutely, absolutely, yes. And I’d just be curious to just hear from that patient perspective, I think a lot of those things, as we saw in the pandemic, we carry those things even though so much has changed from back in the day. So, it’s going to be interesting to hear that from the patient perspective and then to be able to hopefully share that information, and I think it could translate, as you were mentioning in to other areas of health, and see if we could then take that to a broader audience and try and make a difference in these disparities. 

How Can BIPOC Breast Cancer Patients Overcome Health Disparities?

How Can BIPOC Breast Cancer Patients Overcome Health Disparities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can BIPOC breast cancer patients help overcome health disparities? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Regina Hampton share ways to be more proactive with breast cancer screening, in interaction with healthcare providers, and in sharing breast cancer stories.

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program

Related Programs:

How Can Breast Cancer Patients Connect to Patient-Centered Care?


Dr. Nicole Rochester:

You alluded to the different care sometimes that patients of color receive. So I want to shift and talk about racial and ethnic inequities, and unfortunately, we know that with every other illness, unfortunately similarly with breast cancer, there’s a long history of women, particularly in BIPOC communities receiving disparate care, a lot of times they are not offered some of these treatment options, maybe they don’t have access to some of the breast cancer centers, so can you just share some information about some of the disparities that we see, in breast cancer? And then I’m curious to know how you specifically address them being a Black woman breast surgeon 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

So, one of the things to know is that as African American women, we tend to get breast cancer at younger ages, and not a lot of physicians know and can recognize that, so it is very important that when a young African American woman has a breast complaint that that’s taken seriously and worked up to make sure that we’re not missing a breast cancer. So, I think it’s important again to have those conversations talking about family history, because we don’t talk about family history, in our families. I’ve had a patient just come in and say, Yeah, well, grandma had a breast missing, no no nobody said cancer, well they probably should’ve said cancer, so we’ve gotta have those health conversations in our family, so I think it’s important for patients to really be their advocate because many times these young women are dismissed and thought, “Oh, you’re too young,” and I’ve even been kind of fooled myself by some of the young women, so knowing that younger women get breast cancer at younger ages, if you think something is going on, you need to really take that seriously. And then I think it’s also talking about the options, we do tend to get a more aggressive form of breast cancer, but the treatments have changed, and while chemotherapy may be indicated for many patients, it’s not for all patients, and so really taking that time to understand what all the options are, “Well, why are you recommending chemotherapy? What’s going to be the benefit for me? What’s the survival benefit for me? What are the side effects? How this going to affect my sex life? How is this going to affect me and my relationship with my children, with work?” 

So really just asking all of those important questions, I think it’s also important to ask for what you want. I don’t think we speak up enough, there was actually a study that I was looking out that shows that we don’t get offered reconstruction as often as our white counterparts. The disparity is about 24 percent, and that’s really huge. That’s important. So, we really need to ask those questions and to know, well, maybe I can’t get reconstruction at this juncture, but can I get it in the future, there’s a federal law that covers all of those for all breast cancer patients, no matter what color you are, so again, it’s just asking those questions. Sometimes taking somebody and having somebody else ask the questions can be helpful. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Yeah, making somebody else the bad guy, so to speak. Absolutely, any time I have a conversation about health disparities and health and inequities, honestly, I get a little angry inside because for you to share that statistic that we’re not as often offered reconstructive surgery, that is a huge part of our identity as women. Our appearance, our self-esteem, and I just want to point out for our viewers that unfortunately, as Dr. Hampton has stated. A lot of times, these disparities are sometimes due to lack of knowledge, so Dr. Hampton mentioned that Black women tend to get breast cancer at a younger age, and you need to know that if you’re seeing a breast surgeon or even an internist or oncologist who is not a person of color or who is not up-to-date on that information, they may not know those statistics, but unfortunately, there also is this bias that you’ve talked about as well, and we know that we all have bias, we are exposed regularly to negative images, negative stereotypes of African Americans, Latino, Native Americans, and doctors are not immune to that bias and we carry those biases into the exam room, and so for people of color with breast cancer, it is particularly important that you follow these recommendations that Dr. Hampton has mentioned, and I just love that really all of them center around advocacy and speaking up for yourself and standing up for yourself. Are there any other things, Dr. Hampton in closing that you can think of specifically for patients of color, things that they can do to really protect themselves from these inequities that exist in breast cancer care. 

 Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think we have to really start at the beginning and being more proactive about our screening, making sure that we’re getting those mammograms, making sure that when we get a mammogram, we’re asking for the best mammogram if there’s new 3D technology, making sure that you get that so that we can find things at an earlier stage, and I think also we have to call it kind of throw out all the myths. We got to let them go people, we got to let them go. And I know there have been some challenges and we have had some historical issues, I think Dr. Rochester and I both agree and acknowledge that, but at some point, we have to move forward and be more proactive and really knock down some of those barriers and not let some of those old things that happen hold us back from the new technologies that are available. So, I think the good thing, we’re in a day and age where most early-stage cancers are not a death sentence and we find them early, we can treat them early, and I think we have to just talk in our community, I’m always amazed that many Black women still don’t share their stories. 

So, you have women who are in the same circle and don’t realize that the person two seats down went through breast cancer, and you all still go to coffee, and she didn’t share her story. And now you’re facing breast cancer, you’re thinking, “Wow, I’m just alone.” And so, I think we have to really share that, not only in our families, but we’ve got to share it with our sisters, because you never know who you’re going to be helping through that journey. I find it interesting that there’s really a difference between how African American women take a breast cancer diagnosis and white women take a breast cancer diagnosis, and we’re getting ready to really look at this, and I’m really excited about it because I really want to know what is it and why is there such a difference? But I think we have to not hide, we have to really share our stories, and sharing your story is going to help somebody else. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, I think part of the hiding and even what you mentioned about the family history not being shared as part of this kind of myth that we have to be strong or that Black women are invincible and that we can’t be vulnerable. And you’re absolutely right, we need to talk about this in our circles, we need to talk about it with our daughters or nieces, all of our family members, so that we’re all educated and empowered.  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

It’s funny you mentioned that because that’s one of the first things I tell patients to do. I say, “Look, you’ve got to let other people take over, because we’ve got work to do, and kids have got to eat peanut butter and jelly, they’ve just got to eat some peanut butter and jelly, they’ll be all right, but you’ve got to put yourself first.” And I think if we put ourselves first, put our screenings first, we’re good about getting our kids, getting them to their health appointments, we as women have got to get ourselves to our health appointments and put ourselves first, so that we can be there for our families. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

You just reminded me of something we as women, are really good at taking care of our kids and our spouses and other members of our family, but then we do that at the expense of ourselves, and I can say when I used to practice as a pediatrician, we were trained to address postpartum moms, and people realize early on that, hey, okay, they may not have their postpartum visit for six weeks, but they’re taking that baby to the pediatrician in two or three days, and so we would talk with the postpartum moms about screening them for depression and things of that nature, but I never thought about…you literally just gave me this idea that maybe pediatricians should also be checking in with our patients’ moms and asking them about their screening, I don’t know if they would be offended by that, but it truly takes a village, and so maybe we need to be encouraging the parents of our patients and making sure that they’re getting their regular screenings and their health maintenance as well, because you’re right, we will look out for the babies, and we will put ourselves on that back burner every single time.