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The Cancer Care Center
Breast cancer: patient FAQs
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you probably have a million questions and worries. We understand this; your Cancer Care Center health care team and breast cancer navigator are here to answer any questions and provide reassurance.
Here are some frequently asked questions about breast cancer:
Q. Why do I have to get a biopsy?
A. A biopsy offers a definitive diagnosis of cancer. Imaging studies, such as ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs and CT scans, can show the doctor if there is an abnormality and where it is located, but the doctor cannot definitively determine that the lump is malignant based on a scan. A biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure in which the doctor removes a piece of the mass and sends it to a pathology lab. There, a trained pathologist analyzes it and determines whether it is cancerous.
The biopsy itself is done with a local anesthetic. You stay awake, but the site of the incision is numbed. You may feel some pressure during the biopsy, and afterwards your breast may be sore for a day, but a biopsy is a relatively painless procedure. In addition, once your doctor gets an answer, you can begin treatment immediately. Learn more about breast biopsies.
Q. What am I going to do if the diagnosis is cancer?
A. Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, your health care team springs into action, ready to begin treatment. You will not be alone during this time. In fact, immediately following your diagnosis, you meet with our breast cancer navigator. She will carefully explain your treatment options and what your next steps should be, and answer any of your questions, ranging from treatment to insurance to where to park.
St. Anthony’s Cancer Care Center offers sophisticated, state-of-the-art therapies, including interventional radiology, thermal ablation, and MammoSite® Targeted Radiation Therapy. You also have access to the latest clinical trials in St. Louis, made available through St. Anthony’s Cancer Care Center's affiliation with the Washington University School of Medicine.
Q. Do I have to remove my breast?
A. The answer to this question depends on many factors, but most of all your preference.
You can choose to undergo a mastectomy, in which the entire breast is removed, or a lumpectomy, in which only the mass and surrounding tissue is removed. Learn more about breast cancer surgery.
There are pros and cons to each procedure. Here are some questions to consider when deciding whether to remove a breast:
- How important is it to keep my breast?
- How important is it for my breasts to match in size?
- How anxious am I about the breast cancer returning?
- How do I feel about wearing a prosthetic device, or undergoing reconstructive surgery?
Q. What are “lymph nodes” and why do they need to be removed also?
A. “Lymph nodes” is a term you will hear a lot about during your testing and treatment.
- Lymph is the body’s natural cleaning fluid. It aids your immune system by destroying unwanted substances. Lymph travels through your arteries and tissues and cleans them. The fluid is then drained through your lymphatic system.
- The lymphatic system, in addition to helping drain waste, works with your circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients from the blood to the cells in your body.
- Lymph nodes are the filters along the route of the lymphatic system. They trap the bad stuff—bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and anything else your body doesn't want. The lymph nodes make sure that the unwanted substances are safely eliminated from your body. Lymph nodes form a perimeter around your breast and are responsible for draining away fluid from your breasts.
During the breast cancer diagnosis phase, your doctor is looking at all kinds of nodes that are involved with your breast. You have nodes around your collarbone, neck, and under your arm. Often, cancerous cells are found in the lymph nodes and they need to be removed during surgery for breast cancer.
Q. How do I break the news to my family?
A. This question depends on your family: how many people are included, how do they best receive difficult information, how can you make it easy on yourself? You may decide to write an email, call people on the phone or talk to them in person. The most important thing to say is that you feel very confident with your health care and you are going to stay positive. When they ask how they can help, have something prepared, even if it is just “Please keep me in your thoughts.” Remember, you are the patient, and you need to care for yourself now.
Q. Is everything I need in this building?
A. Yes, during your testing and treatment, you will not be given the run-around. Everything you need and everyone you need to talk to is right here at St. Anthony’s Cancer Care Center, including:
- radiology department for your imaging tests
- fully-equipped surgical center
- Infusion Center to receive your chemotherapy treatment
- every doctor and nurse on your health care team—radiologists, oncologists, surgeons
For information about St. Anthony's Cancer Care Center - St. Louis, please call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
Working as trusted partners, the physicians and employees of St. Anthony's Health System will deliver care distinguished by its demonstrated quality and personalized service. We will be visibly engaged in improving the health and well being of the communities we serve in South County and beyond. We will stand together, proud to set the standard for independent community health systems.