Tag Archive for: breast cancer

Navigating Treatments and Prognosis for Stage 3 Breast Cancer

Editor’s Note: This resource, Navigating Treatments and Prognosis for Stage 3 Breast Cancer, was originally published by MyHealthTeam.

During a breast cancer diagnosis, your doctor will determine the stage of your cancer. Stages range from 0 to 4, based on the size of the breast tumor and whether the cancer has spread to other organs. If your doctor determines you have stage 3 breast cancer, that indicates you have advanced breast cancer that has begun to impact the tissue surrounding the breast.

Knowing the stage can help your doctor choose the best treatment and predict your prognosis (estimated outlook).

How Is Breast Cancer Stage Determined?

Breast cancer is staged using the TNM staging system, where TNM stands for tumor, node, metastasis. The system looks at the following:

  • Tumor — How large is the primary tumor?
  • Node — Are there cancer cells in nearby or distant lymph nodes?
  • Metastasis — Has the cancer metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body?

A higher degree of cancer spread corresponds to more advanced-stage disease. Understanding the nature of the disease and determining the best treatment options also requires additional information, such as:

  • Hormone receptor status — Does the cancer contain estrogen receptors (ERs) or progesterone receptors (PRs), which are types of proteins?
  • Tumor grade — How do the abnormal cancer cells look compared to the normal cells?
  • Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status — How high are your levels of the protein HER2?

What Is Stage 3 Breast Cancer?

Also called locally advanced breast cancer, stage 3 breast cancer is a more advanced form of invasive breast cancer. Cancer cells have spread from the milk ducts into the nearby lymph nodes, the skin of the breast, or the chest wall.

Stage 3 breast cancer may further be classified into substages — stage 3A, 3B, or 3C — depending on the size of the breast tumor and the extent of the cancer spread. Notably, breast cancer stages are sometimes referred to using Roman numerals, such as stage III instead of stage 3.

Stage 3A Breast Cancer

Stage 3A breast cancer refers to one of the following situations:

  • The doctor doesn’t find a tumor in the breast, or if there is a tumor, it may be of any size. Additionally, cancer is found in four to nine axillary lymph nodes (those that are in the armpit region) or in the lymph nodes closest to the breastbone
  • The tumor is larger than 5 centimeters, and there are small groups of breast cancer cells between 0.2 millimeters and 2 millimeters in size in the lymph nodes.
  • The tumor is larger than 5 centimeters, and the cancer has spread to one to three axillary lymph nodes or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone.

Stage 3B Breast Cancer

In stage 3B breast cancer, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and the chest wall, referring to the protective structures around the lungs. The cancer is also in the skin of the breast, resulting in ulcers or swelling.

Stage 3C Breast Cancer

In stage 3C breast cancer, there may be no sign of cancer in the breast. If there is a tumor, it may be any size and may have spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast. Additionally, the cancer must have spread to one or more of the following places:

  • Ten or more axillary lymph nodes
  • Lymph nodes above or below the collarbone
  • The axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Stage 3 breast cancer is classified as inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) when the cancer cells block vessels in the skin of the breast, causing the skin to feel warm and change in appearance.

Treatments for Stage 3 Breast Cancer

Stage 3 breast cancer treatment often starts with chemotherapy, followed by surgery. For cancers with certain genetic mutations, targeted drugs are also used in treatment.


Chemotherapy is often the first approach for treating stage 3 breast cancer. Chemotherapy is usually administered as neoadjuvant therapy, meaning it is given prior to surgery. This approach is beneficial in that it can:

  • Shrink the tumor to make it easier to remove
  • Test that a particular chemotherapy is effective
  • In some cases, allow for a less extensive surgical procedure

Mastectomy or Lumpectomy

mastectomy, which is the removal of the breast tissue, is often required to treat stage 3 breast cancer. Alternatively, a lumpectomy — also referred to as breast-conserving surgery or partial mastectomy — involves the removal of only the breast tumor and some of the surrounding normal tissue.

Many people with stage 3 breast cancer are not eligible for a lumpectomy and likely need a mastectomy to get rid of the tumor completely. However, if neoadjuvant chemotherapy can shrink the tumor enough, a lumpectomy might become a viable option.

Following surgery, some people may choose to have reconstructive surgery to restore the appearance of their breasts.


Radiation therapy is often administered following an operation to kill off any remaining breast cancer cells that may have been missed by treatment.

Lymph Node Dissection

Lymph nodes containing cancer cells must also be removed. An axillary lymph node dissection is done to remove the lymph nodes in the armpit. The procedure is usually performed at the same time as a mastectomy.

Hormonal Therapy

Some breast cancers contain proteins called hormone receptors on the surface of breast cancer cells. The hormone receptors that play a role in breast cancer progression are the estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors.

Hormone receptor-positive stage 3 breast cancers can be treated with hormonal therapy drugs such as tamoxifen or exemestane (sold as Aromasin), which specifically target the hormone receptors.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy drugs work by stopping the function of a particular protein or group of proteins. HER2 is a protein that is present at high levels in some breast cancers and affects how the cancer grows. HER2-positive stage 3 cancers may be treated with drugs that specifically target the HER2 protein.


If breast cancer cells are negative for ER, PR, and HER2, the cancer is called triple-negative breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer is difficult to treat effectively with standard treatments, so newer forms of treatment like immunotherapy may be used to improve outcomes.

Immunotherapy drugs work by interacting with a person’s immune system so that it can recognize and fight the cancer cells. Pembrolizumab (sold as Keytruda) is an immunotherapy drug that can be used along with chemotherapy to treat triple-negative stage 3 breast cancer that has returned or spread after surgery.

Prognosis for Stage 3 Breast Cancer

Stage 3 breast cancer is an advanced stage disease, so prompt treatment is crucial for improving the prognosis.

Overall, stage 3 breast cancer has a somewhat favorable prognosis with a five-year survival rate as high as 86 percent. This means 86 percent of people with the condition live at least five years after being diagnosed. This rate can vary depending on the exact substage of cancer. For instance, IBC has a markedly lower survival rate, closer to 41 percent.

Hormonal therapy and other targeted drugs have helped to improve outcomes for cancers with specific genetic features. Some people may be encouraged to participate in clinical trials, which can advance the discovery of new effective treatments for stage 3 breast cancer.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 58,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyBCTeam.

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What questions should breast cancer patients ask their healthcare team before entering a clinical trial? Dr. Adrienne Waks shares her advice and key questions that breast cancer patients should ask before participating in a trial.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Breast Cancer Clinical Trials 201

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What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know.



What are some key questions patients should ask their healthcare team about participating in a trial?  

Dr. Waks:

Yeah, I think there’s a couple of major ones. What’s the rationale behind this trial? Why do you think it might be better than the standard? What do I stand to gain in terms of effectiveness? Do you think it could be worse than the standard of care, and why or why not? So, basically, trying to capture well, what’s the rationale and the potential benefit of a trial? We’re always doing trials to try to give the patient some sort of benefits, so very reasonable to ask about that. Number two, of course, is what are the extra side effects that could be associated with participation on this trial, and how much do you know about them? 

Is this a drug that you’ve used for five years in  a different context or is it a pretty new drug and you don’t have a great sense, so number two, what are the side effects potentially associated with participation on the clinical trial? And then the third thing I would say is what is the extra burden on me going to be, not in terms of side effects but in terms of life disruption, time spent and things like that? What are those extra burdens going to be if I participate in a clinical trial will I have to get extra scans, will I have to do extra visits, will I have to get extra biopsies?  

You know, there are a number of clinical trials that require biopsies or have optional biopsies at least because in addition to studying a new drug we’re trying to understand in whom does it work and in whom does it not. And so, we want to have biopsies to help us understand that, but a patient should obviously want to be informed about those biopsies.  

So, what will the extra on me look like? And then, we always try as investigators in a clinical trial to put in place as best we can some ways to sort of mitigate the burden on patients. Like, well if I have to have a biopsy, can my parking be covered that extra day or what accommodations can be made to try to mitigate some of the disruption or the extra time? So, I would say those are sort of the three or four main things to ask about. 

Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Adrienne Waks, a breast cancer expert, discusses why and when patients should consider participating in a clinical trial.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Breast Cancer Clinical Trials 201

Related Resources:

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know.

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial



Why should a breast cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial?  

Dr. Waks:

It’s a great question. I always tell patients and, of course, I work at Dana Farber, so we participate and I come to this question with a bias and a huge enormous amount of belief in the importance and the value of clinical research, but I honestly would encourage all patients to encourage clinical trials at all points in their breast cancer care. I think that often patients think that clinical trials are something that your doctor will bring up when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of cancer treatment options. 

You know, you’ve exhausted everything that’s good and now we’re going to give you treatments that were given to the mice last week or something like that. But that could not be further from the truth. At every stage of breast cancer treatment whether you have a stage I breast cancer or you have a metastatic breast cancer, all of the current standards for how we treat patients and all of the data that we have to tell us you should use those treatments because they’re beneficial, all of those standards and those data come from patients who came before you who participated in clinical trials. Those were not patients who were at the very last stage of their cancer treatment.  

They were patients who could have been newly diagnosed with a Stage I breast cancer, newly diagnosed with metastatic breast or something like that. We change the standards of how we treat patients at all stages by running clinical trials. 

In breast cancer, we have such effective treatments that it’s virtually unheard of that we would compare something to nothing. There’s almost never a time in breast cancer treatment when it’s ethical to offer nothing as a therapy, so most of our clinical trials are not saying you might get a placebo sugar pill and that’s it. It’s saying either you’ll get Arm A, which is this agent or you’ll get A plus B which is the standard plus something else. So, it’s not like by participating in a clinical trial you’re omitting standard therapy. What we’re generally trying to do is give you standard therapy and something better or replacing a part of standard therapy with something we think is going to do better.  

Every time we design and implement a clinical trial, we’re obviously doing so because we hope that we can improve upon the current standard. So, there certainly isn’t a trial for everybody at every stage in their treatment course, and it’s absolutely fine if there’s no trial ongoing that’s the right fit for you, but I think it’s always a good question to ask. You know, is there a trial I should consider here? 

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know.

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What do breast cancer patients need to know about clinical trials? Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks addresses common concerns and misconceptions about trial participation.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Breast Cancer Clinical Trials 201

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How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?

Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial



What would you say to patients who may be hesitant to participate in a trial? 

Dr. Waks:

That’s a great question. I think many patients are at first hesitant to participate in a trial, which is natural. You know, there’s already so many overwhelming and scary decisions to be made when it comes to getting a breast cancer diagnosis or any cancer diagnosis that introduce a whole other set of discussions. Instead of variables, it’s found extremely overwhelming and adds another level of what might feel like uncertainty, so I think that’s a completely natural response is to be hesitant and overwhelmed if somebody brings up the clinical trial. 

But what I would try to address in terms of patient concerns is number one, I think that patients worry that if they are approached about a clinical trial that means there aren’t other good options available to them which not always, but almost always is actually far from the truth. Usually it’s just because we have a standard, we think it’s pretty good but we’d like to do better than the standard and participating in a clinical trial is how we do that. 

So, first I always, of course, assure patients this clinical trial is not like something we’ve never tested before and we know nothing about it, and it’s not because I don’t have other options for you. It’s just because I want to do better than the existing options and often it’s looking at an agent that’s already FDA-approved, but we’re trying to combine it with a different agent or something like that. 

So, obviously, number one try to give patients some reassurance about what we already know about the trial agents and also reassure them about the fact that we don’t anticipate the efficacy of their treatment overall would be compromised. Rather we’re trying to improve upon that. So, I think that’s probably the most common concern that I hear from patients, but, of course, as providers it’s our job to understand from that specific patient who’s in front of you what are your particular concerns about clinical trials in general. And are those misconceptions that I can dispel for you, or are they real things that some women on trials do experience in which case we should talk through them and decide if it’s the right fit for you.  

It’s almost always true that participating in a clinical trial does come with what I always call a few other hoops to jump through, because when you’re participating in a clinical trial we want to learn from your experience. So, we do want women to complete questionnaires about their side effects or have a second appointment one week later so that we can do an extra side effect check-in or something like that. You know, do an EKG that they wouldn’t otherwise need. So, there can be and often are some additional logistical or scheduling components that come with participation in the trial. 

Again, we would want a patient to voice how that might or might not fit into her life and be very up front about what could be expected in terms of additional asks which can be extremely minimal or sometimes more disruptive depending on the trials. So, obviously, we just need to have a conversation about that. 

Why Should Breast Cancer Patients Feel Empowered to Speak Up About Their Care?

Why Should Breast Cancer Patients Feel Empowered to Speak Up About Their Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Why is it important for breast cancer patients to speak up and have a voice in their care? Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks shares her perspective encouraging patients to ask questions and understand their care.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Thrive Breast Cancer

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What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?



Why should patients feel empowered to speak up and ask questions? 

Dr. Waks:

Well, I think for all sorts of different reasons. I think in breast cancer there are times when there’s a very clear right answer and right path forward and then a variety of other options that are clearly not recommended, not standard of care inadvisable, dangerous whatever, so there’s plenty of circumstances where that’s the case. But there’s also lots of circumstances, probably the majority of decisions that a patient has to make over the course of her or his breast cancer treatment plan and a variety of circumstances where there’s actually a number of different reasonable paths forward. 

Again, I think that’s the physicians or the nurse practitioner, the infusion nurse, whatever healthcare practitioner is helping to guide the patient through that particular decision, it’s our role to help lay out those options. Ultimately, we will always look to the patient for the most important final decision, so in order to make that decision, a patient needs to ask questions and help us understand where is she or he coming from, and what are their values and what are their competing interests, competing priorities outside of their breast cancer diagnosis, what is the most important outcome, a thing they want to maximize most, a thing they don’t really care about. 

We’ll never be able to bring that perspective to the table. We always look to the patient to do that. 

And so, they’re only get there by asking questions. Obviously, we’re going to try our best to anticipate all of the questions and lay out the options as comprehensively as we can, but there will always be things we can’t anticipate and things that are important to the patient that we just simply could never know about. So, we understand, appreciate, expect, and hope that a patient will ask questions and even more so that their accompanying family member or friend will do the same. 

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What is shared decision-making? Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks outlines the shared decision-making process and explains how patients can play an active role in their care.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

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Why Should Breast Cancer Patients Feel Empowered to Speak Up About Their Care?

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?



What is shared decision-making, and how does it work? 

Dr. Waks:

So, to me basically what that means is that patients and providers are working together to decide what are the best steps to take in a patient’s treatment plan, essentially. I see my role as the provider being to lay out the menu of options and try to, of course, offer some guidance about which might be the best, which are less preferred, why that is. But then, to guide the discussion and then have the subsequent conversation with the patient about how do they take in that information, what feels like the right fit to them and then incorporate their preferences into the actual plan we make in terms of how to go forward. 


Well, what role do patients play in the decision-making? 

Dr. Waks:

I think the patients play the most important role ultimately. You know, what I always say to patients is I’m always going to try to offer my opinion. Again, lay out a variety of different options and then offer my opinion because I think I would imagine it could be frustrating if you’re a patient and you go to a doctor and they say like here are five options, and you can just select between them. So, it’s definitely I think the physician’s role to try to put some value judgments or comparisons of the different options, but ultimately, basically every single decision is the patient’s, and I can tell them that’s what I would have done or that’s not what I would have done, but I understand where you’re coming from. 

Again, it’s not like your physician isn’t there to guide you and give feedback and try to tell you what the best choice is. But actually ultimately in breast cancer management and in a free medical issue, it is ultimately the patient’s decision, so their voice is the most important one. 

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks reviews available treatment approaches for patients with early stage breast cancer and explains the role of sub types when choosing a treatment plan.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Thrive Breast Cancer

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What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?



Well, let’s get into the specific treatment options that are available for breast cancer patients. Could you tell us about those?  

Dr. Waks:

So, fortunately, the answer to that question is enormous, because we have so many effective treatment options in breast cancer and generally our patients do very well in the long term when they are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, so stage I or II or III breast cancer.  

That might involve the breast, it might involve the lymph nodes under the arm, but it hasn’t traveled anywhere else in the body. So I’ll set aside metastatic breast cancer and just talk about stage I, II, and III. 

So, as you may know, we think about as medical oncologists we completely separate treatment considerations for three different subtypes of breast cancer. Those are hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive and then triple-negative. So, again, highlighting just important developments and not really the overall treatment planning for each of those subtypes, in ER-positive disease or estrogen receptor-positive disease hormonally-driven, estrogen-driven breast cancer – those are all sort of terms for the same thing, I think there have been a couple of important developments over the last few years.  

Probably the most important recent one is the new understanding and demonstration that the CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib, the brand name of that drug is Verzenio. 

That drug when we administer it for two years after a patient has had their surgery and in conjunction with alongside the antiestrogen medicines; the antiestrogen medicines are usually done for a minimum of five years, when we add on to that the CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib, we see that for women with higher risk disease, so maybe some lymph node involvement or a large tumor in the breast or both that the addition of the Verzenio, the abemaciclib seems to decrease their risk of recurrence of breast cancer a couple of years out. So, that’s been an important exciting development. 

Again, not for all women within early stage estrogen-driven breast cancer, but for a little bit more advanced early stage disease like lymph node involvement. You know, we’re obviously always looking for ways to reduce that risk of recurrence for women who have a little bit more risk at diagnosis and the addition of abemaciclib was an exciting and welcome addition to our toolkit there. 

In HER2-positive disease, which is about 20 percent of breast cancers overall, I think what the recent years have brought us is increasing understanding that in many cases we give women too much chemotherapy and that we need to be – so, here it’s less about adding on. Like the Verzenio example I was just talking about and more about individualizing and figuring out in whom and how we can pull back from sort of the kitchen sink approach that we take often to treating a HER2-positive early stage breast cancer and be more thoughtful and more personalized in the amount of treatment that we give women with HER2-positive breast cancer. 

The reason for that is that we’re basically 20 years into understanding that for HER2-positive breast cancers we can treat those cancers very effectively with anti-HER2 antibody drugs like trastuzumab or Herceptin. We didn’t even know that until 20 years ago. And so, Herceptin, trastuzumab and similar drugs have really revolutionized how effectively we can treat women with HER2-positive breast cancers. And so, at this point, it’s becoming more and more clear that we can really lean more on our arsenal of anti-HER2 targeted therapies like Trastuzumab. Pertuzumab (Perjeta) is another one and trastuzumab MTNC and TDM1 is another one. 

So, we have all these excellent smart targeted treatments for women with HER2-positive disease, but yet the standard of care is still to give all those good rational targeted treatments with a whole bunch of chemotherapy that comes with a lot of side effects. 

I think more and more we’re figuring out that we can lean more on our anti-HER2 treatments and require less of the really side effect heavy chemotherapy, but how do we do that thoughtfully? We obviously don’t want to undertreat anybody, so how do we do that thoughtfully? How do we pick out the women who only need the anti-HER2 treatment and can get away with less chemotherapy. I think that’s really what’s exciting in HER2-positive early stage breast cancer right is how do we individualize and take advantage of targeted agents that we have? 

And then finally, in the third subtype of breast cancer which is triple-negative breast cancer which accounts for about 10 percent of breast cancers, the most exciting development there clearly in the last year or so is the realization and the demonstration in randomized clinical trial that we can improve outcomes for those women if we give them not just chemotherapy but also chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy and specifically the immunotherapy agent called pembrolizumab or Keytruda. 

So, up until a year or two ago, the standard for a stage I or II or III triple-negative breast cancer was to get a multiagent chemo regimen and chemo was really the only type of option we had to treat those triple-negative breast cancer patients and now we know from a major important clinical trial called Keynote 522, that if we take a standard chemo backbone and add Pembrolizumab immunotherapy onto it, that we can help those women do better in the long term. So, that’s really a pretty new in the last one or two years standard of care for triple-negative breast cancer. 

And I guess the last thing I’ll say is not about one of those three subtypes of breast cancer but specifically for women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation associated with their breast cancer, which is a minority. It’s about 5 percent of breast cancer patients. Obviously, the proportion changes depending on your subtype of breast cancer and your age when you’re diagnosed, but for women who have a breast cancer associated with BRCA1 or 2 mutation and have a higher risk or early stage breast cancer. 

So, again, they have a number of lymph nodes involved or a big tumor in the breast or something like that, we now know that we can add on one year of the PARP inhibitor medication called olaparib or Lynparza to the postoperative treatment of those breast cancer patients in addition to whatever other treatment they got; the antiestrogen pills, the chemotherapy, or a combination of those two, and with the addition of olaparib or Lynparza for a year that we can again see better long-term outcomes for those patients and help them avoid recurrences. 

So, that’s not a majority of breast cancer patients but is a targeted treatment that we’re very excited about that definitely makes an important contribution to reducing risk for women with a BRCA1- or BRCA2-associated cancer or men for that matter. I’m saying women, but it could absolutely apply to men. 

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks discusses treatment approaches for metastatic breast cancer and explains how research is evolving.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Thrive Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?



What about people who have metastatic disease? What treatment advances are available for them?  

Dr. Waks:

Yeah. You know, I think that’s an incredibly important question and a totally different set of discussions than we have with women with early stage breast cancer and unfortunately and unacceptably at this point for a woman diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer still typically that can become a life-threatening diagnosis. 

So, it’s exceptionally important that we rapidly improve the treatment options that we have for women with metastatic breast cancer. Maybe everybody says this every year, but I think that this year, 2022, has been a particularly exciting year in terms of advances that we’re making in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, really of all subtypes. I would say the most exciting class of drugs or type of drugs that’s coming out in breast cancer and in all malignancies honestly, is called antibody drug conjugates, which is to say an antibody. So, a molecule that’s targeted to some particular approaching on a cancer cell surface and then is attached to or conjugated to a chemotherapy molecule.  

So, the antibody is like a smart delivery system directly to the cancer cell for what’s call a payload, basically like a sort of action molecule or the killer molecule, which is the chemotherapy. 

Those kinds of antibody drug conjugants have made a huge impact in recent years in improving outcomes for women really with all subtypes of breast cancer, so that drug class I think is a very exciting one to watch in general. In terms of specific recent developments in metastatic breast cancer, so probably the biggest blockbuster development over the past year and really over just the past three months is the understanding that we can break out a subtype of metastatic breast cancer that we really didn’t even talk about before which is called HER2-low breast cancer. So, before if you asked me in May of 2022, there really were only two types of HER2 readouts for a breast cancer tumor. 

There was a HER2-negative breast cancer tumor and there was a HER2-positive breast cancer tumor and as I already told you, the HER2-positive accounts for about 20 percent of breast cancers overall. The other 80 percent are HER2-negative. And so, historically, again you asked me three months ago I would have said if you’re HER2-positive and that 20 percent will give you these different HER2-directed treatments and if you’re not, we can’t use those. And what’s changed is that we’ve developed new antibody drug conjugants. So, drugs that are targeted against in this case the protein HER2 that seem to be so effective and work so well, that you don’t truly have to be HER2-positive.  

You can be HER2-low and still benefit from these treatments, which is to say your cancer has a little bit of HER2 protein on the surface of the breast cancer cells but not a lot. So, not enough to make it positive but enough to make it low in its designation. 

That’s actually a large proportion of breast cancer patients. It’s over 50 percent of breast cancer patients, so it’s significantly more than HER2-positive, so a large proportion of breast cancer patients actually fit into this new category called HER2-low and we now know from data that were presented in June of 2022 and then published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which is our biggest most high profile academic medical journal, we know that for patients who fall into that HER2-low category, again that’s more than 50 percent of breast cancer patients, that they can, if they have a metastatic breast cancer, benefit from this new antibody drug conjugate called trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu).  

When it was compared to the existing chemo options we have for those patients which do have some efficacy but nonetheless, when trastuzumab deruxtecan was compared to the existing chemo options, it clearly looked better for patients with HER2-low breast cancer. So, that was not just an exciting advance in terms of new treatment options which we always love to be able to offer to patients but also in terms of breaking out this entirely new designation and subcategory that captures more than half of our metastatic breast cancer patients and helping us to offer them something new and hopefully will be a pathway for other drugs to be developed in this space and for this new subcategory. 

So, that was very exciting. I’ve been talking about it with patients all the time in the past just three months since those data came out.  

You know, a second antibody drug conjugate that has also been very exciting in recent months and recent years is called sacituzumab govitecan which Trodelvy is the brand name of that one. That’s an antibody drug conjugate that’s targeted against a different protein on the cell surface that’s targeted against the protein Trop-2, so that’s where the Trodelvy comes from. It’s targeting Trop-2. That’s an antibody drug conjugate that we’ve known for probably three or more years now can be very effective in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer. So, we’ve had that option for a number of years in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. 

But again, just in the past few months have gotten good and exciting data that this Trodelvy or sacituzumab drug also works in estrogen-driven breast cancers.  

And so, it’s giving another option to patients with not just triple-negative but also estrogen-driven breast cancer. So, that was another very recent development just in the last three months or so. 


That’s really exciting. 

Disparities, not Despair – Organizations that Empower

In memory and in honor of LaTisha Chong … Let’s change and improve the breast cancer research legacy for Black breast cancer survivors.

Yesterday, as I was preparing to post a brief blog, “Gotta look at this amazing website When We Tri(al),” I was stopped midstream by a New York Times’ 08.20.2022 newsfeed obit of Latisha Chong (01.23.1990 – 07.19.2022), Hair Stylist Who Helped Change Fashion, Dies at 32.  Chong, born in Trinidada/Tobago, was a renowned American hair designer and hair director for fashion designer Telfar Clemens. Tragically, she succumbed to metastatic breast cancer, as reported by her sister, Afesha, also a renowned hair designer.   

In honor of LaTisha Chong’s legacy for women of color with a history of breast cancer, PEN would like to showcase the organization and website When We Tri(al), which is dedicated to exclusively focusing on advancing Breast Cancer (BC) science for Black women, with a primary focus on ensuring much greater participation in clinical trials and survivor rates.  

Breaking down barriers to inclusion drives the activism of When We Tri(al), given historically insupportable and racist statistics: namely, the percent of Black women in BC clinical trials is abysmally low and the disparity statistics around BC in Black vs White women is alarming. Namely, Black women are 41% more likely to die of breast cancer than White women. When Black women are not included or are grossly under-represented in clinical trials, as at present, their story and the science behind their Black BC physiology will fall short of developing the full picture which, in turn, stymies the development of BC treatments that reflect what Black bodies need to survive and thrive.  

To learn more about disparities in the statistics of health and health care in general, check out the website Diverse Health Hub. Diverse Health Hub is dedicated to “exploring social determinants of health, increasing cultural competence among providers, and raising awareness about the roadblocks to equitable care.”  Their work and website includes patient, provider, and community portals. 

Also, I can’t help but note another organization that featured When We Tri(al)’s work. Young Survivors’ Coalition, YSC, was founded in 1998 by women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40. Dedicated to addressing the unique needs and the quality of life of young adults affected by breast cancer, you may find lots here if your demographic is that of a young breast cancer survivor (or even if it is not!).  

And, again, in honor of LaTisha Chong, learn more about these organizations and support/learn from their work, as well as PEN’s.  We are all in this together … the empowerment of each one of us requires vigilant and dogged inclusiveness!  

As a breast cancer survivor, I was interested in and tried to learn more details about LaTisha Chong’s experience and background. I could not find any details about the type of her breast cancer (e.g., whether it was triple negative as many young women, especially women of color, are diagnosed).

The story behind her initial 2012 diagnosis was reported in Air Mobility Command following Chong’s returning from senior airman deployment with the US Air Force in Qatar.  Her life trajectory comes full circle from watching her hair stylist mother work week-end salon marathons in Brooklyn, through Air Force service and deployment, to subsequently adopting a cancer survivor/fighter mode, through the last several years of building a following as cutting-edge hair designer for Black clients and celebrities, including creating the hair design for Met Gala participants; and finally, her last design shoot, the Serena Williams’ cover for Vogue’s September 2022 issue. (See Vogue’s tribute to Chong.)

Additional Resource: https://www.breastcancer.org/podcast/clinical-trial-diversity 

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month I Want You To Know This Truth

With the pink ribbon avalanche that arrives every Fall, we know that Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) is underway. Although BCAM has been credited with raising public awareness of breast cancer, there is nevertheless growing frustration with its off-balance approach to raising awareness, with many key messages getting lost in a sea of ‘pinkwashing’.

I reached out to my network of breast cancer patient advocates to ask them what truths people should know about the disease. I asked them to complete the sentence below:

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month I Want You To Know This Truth….

The following is my own response.

“This Breast Cancer Awareness Month I want you to know that breast cancer isn’t the ‘good’ kind of cancer.  There is no such thing as a good cancer. Cancer, whatever its form, exacts a huge toll on our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and how we will live out the rest of our days.”

Below is a selection of responses I received from the breast cancer community.

“This Breast Cancer Awareness Month I want you to know that breast cancer is different for each person. Some of us don’t “get over it” – it is an ongoing thing in our lives.” – Linda Cantanzaro Boberg

“We don’t need to be reminded this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month Our awareness begins the moment we are diagnosed or find out we are at high risk of getting breast cancer. What I feel strongly about is connecting the community year-round to listen, educate, and be supportive without judgment and without a personal agenda.” – Terri Coutee

“The truth, or at least my truth, is this: breast cancer is a string of losses. It’s not pink. It’s not pretty. It’s not party-like. It’s a horrible disease, something to endure, not an enlightenment program. No need to smile your way through it. Be real. Be you. It’s enough.” – Nancy Stordahl.

“It’s a shame that BCAM has become so commercialized. Pink products are being sold by many scamming companies masquerading as helping breast cancer. Buyer beware before purchasing these products. The truth is this disease is killing over 40,000 metastatic women and 400 men each year in the US alone. Early and late-stage patients are forever daunted by their costly treatments that cause unimaginable side effects. There are too many deaths of friends and family and there’s nothing pretty about losing loved ones to this terrible disease. We must do more especially for Stage IV.” – Susan Zager

“This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want you to know that trivializing and sexualizing breast cancer is demeaning for those who’ve gone through treatment for both primary and secondary stages for this deadly, genderless disease. For men, it means a delayed diagnosis and a poorer prognosis.” – Rod Ritchie

“Each breast cancer patient’s journey is unique. Early detection and awareness are key to saving lives. The right support and ongoing research are vital in all the phases of the breast cancer journey.” – Nicole Fuller

As a fitting end to this post, Audrey Birt responded with a poem.

Breast cancer is a thief

Stealing health

Stealing peace of mind

Stealing future dreams


Breast cancer changes your body

Changes your hopes

Changes your friendships

Changes your energy


Breast cancer makes you grieve

for so much


cancer showed me I’m loved

I’m so grateful for that

At the end – and the beginning and all way through

it’s really love that matters.

Closing Thought

This month is a time when it’s important to honor your feelings and emotions. It is your choice to celebrate or not to celebrate BCAM; if you want to sit out this month or use it to educate others in a different way, do so. Everyone should be able to experience BCAM in the way they need and want. Above all, don’t let breast cancer awareness be confined to just one month. Our work as advocates continues long after the last pink ribbon has been tucked away for another year.

July 2022 Digital Health Roundup

This July, healthcare providers partner up with technology to give cancer patients a better outcome. Gamma Knife technology, a knife-free approach, helps to treat brain and neck cancers. Radiologists use artificial intelligence (AI) to help them catch more cancers on mammograms, leading to increased survivability. The United Kingdom is using technology, in the form of drones, to deliver chemotherapy to cancer patients in isolated areas.

Gamma Knife Technology Treats Brain Tumors Without Surgery

Despite the name, there is no cutting or incisions involved in the Gamma Knife method; instead, radiation and computer-guided planning are used to treat abnormalities in the brain reports TheBlade.com. This technique treats metastatic cancer, malignancies, benign tumors, lesions, and malformations in the head and neck area. The use of gamma rays to the affected area is precise and helps to keep the surrounding tissue healthy. The Gamma Knife is a way to get surgery without using a knife. There is no pain, no anesthesia, the only requirement is that the patient must lay still. This technique is a good choice for people who are unable to undergo surgery, underwent prior brain surgery, or have tumors located in hard-to-reach places. Cancer patients that go through this procedure, have follow-up MRIs to check the status of the area treated. Find more information here.

Doctors Using AI Catch Breast Cancer More Often Than Either Does Alone

Radiologists assisted by an AI screen for breast cancer more successfully than they do when they work alone, according to new research. That same AI produces more accurate results in the hands of radiologists than it does when operating solo reports MITtechnologyreview.com. This artificial intelligence (AI) is called Vara and has been fed data from over 360,000 mammograms with the notes and assessments from the radiologists. It is being used in Germany and Mexico. This AI saves lives by analyzing mammograms and categorizes them as normal or abnormal, the not normal ones are flagged for the radiologist to review. There is a shortage of specialists, and this can help the radiologists free up more time to spend with patients. Radiologists alone can miss catching some of the cancer on the mammograms due to working long hours and being tired. Radiologists review everything the AI interprets and together cancer patients are getting better diagnosis and treatment. Find more information here.

UK Tries Cancer Meds by Drone

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has launched the world’s first trial to deliver chemotherapy via drone – a move that could make receiving cancer treatment cheaper, more convenient and less taxing on patients and the environment reports Freethink.com. Some patients must travel several hours using different modes of transportation to get their chemotherapy. The drone can deliver the medication in a matter of minutes to a hospital or doctor office that is closer to the patient. This delivery method cuts transportation costs to the patient and lowers carbon emissions, impacting the environment. The UK is creating drone corridors to hospitals. Recently, drones have been used to deliver medical supplies in war zones, coronavirus tests to labs, and delivered transplant organs. Find more information here.

Exercising After Breast Cancer: Myths vs. Facts

The benefits of physical activity for people who have undergone treatment for breast cancer are numerous, from reducing fatigue to helping regain a sense of well-being. However, as with diet recommendations, it can be confusing when it comes to how much exercise to take and the type of exercise that is safe during and after treatment.

Recently, I spoke with Cathy Leman, a registered dietitian, nutrition therapist, personal trainer, and survivor of hormone-positive breast cancer. Cathy shared many helpful tips and strategies for those who may be unsure where to start with an exercise routine after a diagnosis of breast cancer.


What are some of the myths associated with exercise and breast cancer? When I had my surgery, I thought I shouldn’t lift anything heavy, such as weights.  And that rest is the best way to heal. Are these beliefs true?


The two thoughts you had are very common! Immediately post-surgery, there definitely are weight limitations in place, yet once your doctor removes exercise restrictions, and gives clearance, there are no limits (other than an individual’s physical ability) on how heavy one can lift. Exercise also helps restore mobility and range of motion after surgery, and there is research identifying exercise as a way to support healing. By the way, it’s important to ALWAYS get your doctor’s approval to add or increase exercise post-surgery.


That’s wonderful to hear, Cathy.  Let’s talk about the benefits of exercising now that we have been cleared to start.


There are so many! Increased range of motion and improved mobility, reduction in fatigue, improvement in strength and stamina, and stress and anxiety management.


What would you suggest to someone who feels intimidated by the current exercise guidelines, which recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week? You may feel exhausted from cancer treatment and this can seem like an overwhelming task.


150 minutes per week translates to ~ 21 minutes per day. I recommend breaking that down even further, for example, 10 minutes of activity in the a.m. and 10 minutes of activity in the evening. Start small, with easy stretches and a walk around the block.


I really like the idea of breaking exercise down into manageable chunks this way.  Okay, let’s move on to where and how to exercise. Gym visits may not be an option for everyone, especially because many of us are still cautious about being in public spaces due to Covid. How can we replicate some of the traditional gym exercises at home?


Body weight exercises like squats, lunges, modified push-ups and planks are great for building overall body strength. Walking or running outdoors offers great cardiovascular benefits. During inclement weather, dancing, walking up and down stairs, and using online in-home workouts are ways to keep moving, even without visiting the gym.


Thanks Cathy for taking the time to talk to us about exercising in ways that are achievable and beneficial, and dispelling some of the common myths around exercise and breast cancer.

About Cathy Leman

Cathy is the founder of HEALTH REBUILD 365, a program that helps post-treatment survivors of hormone-positive breast cancer end food fear, stress, anxiety and guilt, and make confident diet decisions that minimize fear of recurrence.

She also writes the dam. mad. About BREAST CANCER blog, and speaks to groups and organizations about the power of nutrition and lifestyle to optimize survivor health.

www.cathyleman.com IG; @hormone.breastcancer.dietitian

February 2022 Notable News

February brings more innovation in the field of oncology. This month there are many advances for cancer prevention. Scientists are developing a single test for women that can detect and predict the risk of getting four types of cancer. Thanks to new research, doctors have lowered the screening age for colon cancer from age 50 to 45. Finally, a decade long study has proven there is a link between alcohol and some deadly cancers.

Test for Four Types of Women’s Cancer

Scientists are developing a “revolutionary” test to predict a woman’s risk of four cancers using a single sample collected during cervical screening, reports TheGuardian.com . This test uses a cervical tissue sample to spot ovarian, uterine, cervical, and breast cancers. Patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer have the highest risk of death due to it typically being diagnosed in late stages. This cancer has subtle symptoms making it difficult to detect in early stages. Earlier detection could mean stopping the cancer before it even starts in some cases. This test could provide risk scores for patients by assessing genetic footprints that can be tracked over time. These risk scores allow for a more personalized approach to screening, prevention, and detection. Find more information here.

Earlier Screening for Colon Cancer

In the new study, researchers found that Americans in their 20’s and 30’s are seeing the steepest rise in distant-stage colon cancer— later-stage tumors that have spread to other sites in the body reports UPINews.com. The symptoms of colon cancer are changes in bowel habits, blood in stool, abdominal cramps that are persistent, and weight loss for unknown reason. There has been a delay in detection causing a higher mortality rate. Providers are reacting to this rise in colon cancer in younger people by lowering the screening age from 50 to 45. So far, there is not an obvious reason as to the increase in incidence of colon cancer in younger people. Doctors suggest there is a correlation with obesity and diabetes. Screening for colon cancer is a powerful tool for prevention, family history is an important part of this screening. Find more information here.

Link between Alcohol and Cancer

The roughly decade-long study, published last week in the International Journal of Cancer, has confirmed a link between certain types of cancer and the amount of alcohol a person consumes reports Survivornet.com. Cancers included in this study are esophageal cancers, and head and neck cancers. A person with one or both genetic variants show an increased risk. This variant reduces one’s tolerance to alcohol, causing the body to not be able to break down the alcohol. It is also noted that drinking alcohol in combination with smoking puts a person at a much higher risk for cancer. Doctors suggest considering moderation when it comes to drinking alcohol, limiting the number of drinks to four per week. Find more information here.

December 2021 Notable News

If you are like pretty much everyone in the world, you are tired of hearing about viruses, but there is a type of virus that you’ll be glad to learn about. You’ll also be glad to learn that blood tests are detecting cancer, immune cells are communicating with each other, and researchers are taking steps to reduce disparities in healthcare. You may not care to learn that there is yet another link between obesity and cancer, but there is, and that probably doesn’t come as a surprise at this point.

A study in Australia shows that obesity could lead to 10,000 cases of thyroid cancer in the next ten years, reports medicalxpress.com. The study found that one in five future thyroid cancers in the future will be linked to obesity levels today. The study shows the importance of preventing obesity in order to prevent cancer. The findings are especially troubling because the occurrence of obesity has doubled in Australia over the last 20 years. Obesity has been called a causal risk factor for thyroid cancer. Learn more about the study here.

Researchers have developed a new tool for determining the risk of breast cancer in black women in the United States, reports cancer.gov. Black women are usually younger when diagnosed and are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive or advanced forms of breast cancer. Black women are also more likely to die from breast cancer. The tool, called the Black Women’s Health Study Breast Cancer Risk Calculator, is an online questionnaire that uses information about a woman’s medical, reproductive, and family history. The new screening tool is a step toward reducing the disparities in care for black women. Learn more about the risk calculator here.

Scientists have discovered how immune system cells communicate with each other to identify and eliminate tumors, reports sciencedaily.com. The information could help improve the number of patients who are able to benefit from immune therapies and could lead to the development of vaccines that could increase the survival rate for several cancers. Learn more about the findings and how the cells communicate with each other here.

A California company has developed a simple blood test that could detect up to 50 different kinds of cancer, reports webmd.com. The test, called Galleri, can even reportedly detect pancreatic, ovarian, and esophageal cancers, which are generally hard-to-detect. The test detects whether cancer signals were or were not detected and could lead to early detection of cancers. The test does not diagnose cancer and is not meant to replace regular recommended screenings but could help detect cancers that don’t have screening tests. The test doesn’t have full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval yet, and it’s meant for people at high risk for cancer. Patients can expect to pay $950 for the test which isn’t covered by insurance. Learn more about the Galleri test here.

Believe it or not, some viruses can help to fight diseases like cancer, reports sciencedaily.com. Oncolytic viruses are able to target and destroy cancer cells all while leaving healthy cells alone. Viruses outnumber all other life forms combined, and they infect every form of cellular life. The oncolytic viruses are known as specialists in that they are selective in the type of organisms they infect, and because they kill cancer cells and don’t harm normal cells, they could provide a key to new cancer therapies. Learn more about the potential cancer fighting viruses here.

Let’s hope that in 2022 the viruses that are making headlines are the cancer-fighting kind. Wishing you health, peace and hope in 2022 and beyond. Happy New Year.

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