Breast cancer. It is a simple phrase representing a complex journey thousands of women travel each year. Even during October, when Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings attention to the disease, many people don’t realize breast cancer is not just one disease; it’s extremely complex and classified into different types. Understanding the many types of breast cancer is important – not just for the 1-in-8 women who will be diagnosed in their lifetime, – but for those who love them, too.¹
Laura Ross knows first-hand. She was diagnosed with triple-negative, stage I breast cancer when she was 41 years old.
“No one in my family had breast cancer and I had no information,” Ross said. “I had not even heard breast cancer had different types until the results came back from my biopsy.”
Unprepared and in shock, she relied heavily on her support circle, which in addition to her doctor and healthcare team, helped her learn more about her diagnosis. Empowered by this information, Ross had the confidence to make informed treatment decisions with her doctor.
You or someone you love may be affected by breast cancer in your lifetime and have to help make a treatment decision. To change the perception that breast cancer is just one disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Genentech and ThirdLove created the “Not One Type” campaign, which offers these tips:
- Understand the basics. Breast cancer is classified into different types based on the unique characteristics of each tumor (size, lymph node status, stage and subtype, among others). The tumor’s size, the status of whether the cancer is in the lymph nodes and the cancer’s stage, which indicates whether or not it has spread, are important factors in helping determine a diagnosis. The subtype, which is determined by studying the cancer cells using diagnostic tests, more specifically defines the type. Some common breast cancer subtypes include hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive and triple-negative. These are example subtypes. A patient could also have a combination of subtypes, and/or other factors contributing to cancer growth.
- Ask your doctor specific questions. If you or a loved one is faced with a diagnosis, knowing some questions to ask a doctor makes all the difference. Consider these questions to start:
- How large is the tumor?
- Has the cancer spread to the lymph nodes?
- What is the stage?
- What is the HER2 status? Hormone receptor status?
- Why do you recommend this particular treatment plan? Are there other treatment options to consider?
- Can you explain what these medicines do to the cancer in the body?
- What are the common side effects of treatment?
- Pass it on. Share this information with a loved one or friend. Understanding that breast cancer is not a one-size-fits-all-disease can help those directly affected by breast cancer and those who may be impacted in the future make more informed decisions.
During October – and year-round – arm yourself with knowledge about the different types of the disease and use that information to be a more empowered patient or caregiver. Visit NotOneType.org to learn more.
¹ American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2018. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2018.
² Kohler BA, et al. Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2011, Featuring Incidence of Breast Cancer Subtypes by Race/Ethnicity, Poverty, and State. J Natl Cancer Inst 2015;107(6):djv048.