What to Do When You Hear the Life-Changing Words, “You Have Cancer”

What to Do When You Hear the Life-Changing Words, “You Have Cancer”

As a medical oncologist, I understand the toll a cancer diagnosis takes on patients and their families and I know how overwhelming this news can be. Patients receive a lot of information while dealing with a range of emotions, including shock, fear and uncertainty.

Here’s what I want patients and anyone impacted by cancer to know about finding the best care. As a breast cancer specialist, I’ve seen thousands of women – and many men – survive and thrive after breast cancer. It’s a one-step-at-a-time process that starts with getting the right information and making crucial decisions at the right time.

Find the Right Place for Care

Many people diagnosed with cancer have a sense of urgency and want to jump right in and start treatment. However, in most cases, there is time to research and, most importantly, get a second opinion. It’s crucial to find a physician who specializes in your kind of cancer and has access to the latest treatments and therapies.

Get a Second Opinion

Getting a second opinion for something as life-changing as cancer is important. The purpose is to have another cancer specialist review your test results, give an opinion about your diagnosis, and recommend treatment options. In some cases, a second opinion will confirm your doctor’s diagnosis and plan. Or, you may gain more details about your type of cancer. For some, a second opinion can lead to new treatment options; getting the right diagnosis and treatment plan is important.

A second opinion can alleviate a lot of concern and second-guessing. It’s best to get a consultation from a specialist who focuses on your kind of cancer. With this information, you can feel confident about what at first may feel like an overwhelming treatment plan. The specialist who provides the second opinion can work in partnership with your primary oncologist to coordinate the best treatment plan for you.

Know Your Kind of Cancer

I can’t emphasize enough that knowledge is power with breast and any other kind of cancer. Not all cancers are alike. Before selecting the treatment plan that’s right for you, you’ll want to know everything about your specific cancer. Your doctor will explain staging or the degree to which your cancer has advanced and spread to other parts of the body. Staging is measured on a scale of one to four, with four being the most advanced disease.

Breast cancer, for example, has several subtypes that have their own molecular drivers. Some tumors are driven by hormones, specifically estrogen or progesterone.

Cancers that are sensitive to hormones — estrogen receptor (ER) positive or progesterone receptor-positive (PR) — typically grow more slowly and respond better to certain treatments. For example, if your tumor is ER-positive, treatment with anti-estrogen hormone therapy may block cancer cell growth.

It’s also important to select a medical center where you can participate in clinical trials. My organization, City of Hope, is currently conducting more than 500 clinical trials, speeding pioneering treatments to the people who need them today.

I also recommend that patients and families take advantage of personalized supportive care services. Our teams of social workers, psychiatrists and others partner with patients and their families to address the many physical and emotional issues that can arise during and after treatment.

Finally, try to be positive, ensure you have a good support system, and hold onto hope; I believe hope is essential.

Wade Smith, M.D.

Wade Smith, M.D. is a medical oncologist with expertise and training in a variety of cancers. Particularly passionate about treating breast cancer, Dr. Smith is an assistant clinical professor in City of Hope’s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research.

To make an appointment with Dr. Smith, who is currently practicing in City of Hope’s Fountain Valley office, please call (949) 763-2204.

To learn more about City of Hope Orange County, visit CityofHope.org/OC.