The next steps after a breast cancer diagnosis

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be disorienting. Trying to process intense feelings, understand test results, and make treatment choices all at the same time is overwhelming. You may be asking yourself: How do I tackle this? Where do I start?

Learning about your diagnosis and treatment options can bring a greater feeling of control. The more you understand about your situation, the easier it is to ask the questions that matter to you — and to make the decisions that work for your life.

We’ll help you find answers.

Learning about your diagnosis

Understanding more about your diagnosis and treatment options can help reduce anxiety and uncertainty. At the same time, each person has their own preference for what and how much they want to know. Some want to understand everything about breast cancer as soon as possible. Others may only want the basics now, and learn more later. Take some time to figure out how much you’re comfortable knowing before you meet with your medical team.  

Here are some ways to get the information you need when you meet with your doctor:

  • Write questions down ahead of time and bring them to your appointment.
  • If you’ve just been diagnosed, it can be challenging to retain all the new information your doctor is sharing. Having a second pair of ears can help. Bring a friend or loved one along to listen and take notes. 
  • Let your doctor know what’s important in your life. Maybe it’s family, being able to work through treatment, or upcoming events that are special to you. Often, treatment can be arranged around many of these things.
  • If you have a concern and your doctor seems to minimize or dismiss it, don’t hesitate to speak up. Let your doctor know if you are not feeling heard. If you continue to feel like your doctor is not listening, ask to meet with the social worker at your cancer center and voice your concerns. It’s also important to know that you always have the option to seek a second opinion at another hospital.

We know that a new diagnosis is a lot to process! We’re here for it, and we’re here with you. On these pages, you can learn how to prepare for treatment, ways to manage the emotional impact of diagnosis, strategies for finances, and more.

Your medical needs
Your emotional concerns
Lifestyle and practical matters

At Living Beyond Breast Cancer, our mission is to provide trusted information and a community of support through emotional, practical, and evidence-based content that’s meaningful to people living with all stages of breast cancer. We invite you to explore all our website offerings: stories from others who’ve been diagnosed, expert advice, videos, podcasts, and more. You can also sign up for email updates to stay connected to all the latest news and information!

Frequently asked questions

A new diagnosis can bring up many questions — sometimes so many that you’re not sure where to begin. We’ll help you get started with some of the most commonly asked questions and answers:

Q: What is breast cancer?
A: Breast cancer is a group of diseases that begins when normal breast cells grow and reproduce out of control, sometimes turning into a tumor and crowding our normal cells.
Learn more on the breast cancer definition page.

Q: What questions should I ask my doctor?
A: At your first appointment, it can help to get answers to these questions:

  • What stage is the cancer? How extensive and aggressive is the cancer?
  • What treatments do you recommend? 
  • What are the common side effects of these treatments?
  • When do I need to start treatment, and will I need to take any time off to recover?     

Learn more about questions to ask your surgical oncologist.

Q: What kinds of surgery are usually performed for breast cancer?
A: Breast cancer surgery includes

  • lumpectomy, which removes smaller cancers and allows you to keep most of your breast
  • mastectomy, which removes all of the breast tissue 

Breast reconstruction surgery, which does not treat cancer but rebuilds a breast after mastectomy, can often be done at the same time as mastectomy. Lymph node removal is another breast cancer surgery that allows doctors to check whether cancer has spread beyond the breast.  

Q: Should I get a second opinion?
A: If you’re feeling uncertain about the accuracy of your diagnosis or your doctor’s recommendations, or if you feel like your doctor is not hearing your concerns, you have the right to seek a second opinion at another cancer center.
Learn more about seeking a second opinion.

Q: How far can breast cancer spread in the body?
A: Breast cancer can be noninvasive — contained within the breast ducts or lobules — or invasive, breaking into surrounding breast tissue and lymph nodes. Breast cancer can also travel to distant parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, and liver. Doctors use a staging system to describe how far cancer has spread.

Q: I’ve just been diagnosed. How can I deal with these overwhelming emotions? 
A: It’s completely normal to feel intense and changing emotions after a breast cancer diagnosis. Many people experience anxiety, sadness, anger, and depression. We get it, and we’re here with tips and information about how you can find support.
Learn more about coping with your diagnosis.

Q: How do I talk to family and friends about my diagnosis?
A: If you’re having difficulty finding the words to talk to your loved ones about breast cancer, you’re not alone. But letting them know about your diagnosis means you’re allowing them to support you, and having a strong support network can be beneficial to your health.
Learn more about how to tell your family you have breast cancer.

Q: I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. What do I need to know?
A: We know that a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can be intensely emotional and trigger many questions. We’re here for you with information about emotional support, treatment options, clinical trials, and complementary and integrative medicine to help your overall sense of well-being.   
Learn more about living with metastatic breast cancer.

Q: Where can I find more support?
A: LBBC has many support resources for you including the Breast Cancer Helpline, which provides emotional support by phone after matching you with a trained volunteer who has had breast cancer. We also offer downloadable guides and tips, educational programs, and empowering stories from people who’ve been there.
Get support.

Additional resources

Below you can find downloadable resources, articles, and personal stories with more information about diagnosis, decision-making, and ways to find support.

Free downloadable resources

Guide for the Newly Diagnosed (PDF)
Coping with a New Diagnosis (PDF)
Breast Cancer Worksheets
Metastatic Series: Guide for the Newly Diagnosed (PDF)

Related news & opinion

What you need to know about breast cancer, with “3 Black Docs”
Coronavirus: Steps to take for people with breast cancer

Inspiring stories

What I Wish I Knew: Nothing really prepares you for breast cancer
Reflections: Body image after a breast cancer diagnosis

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