When a family member or friend is diagnosed with breast cancer, it can be difficult to figure out how to be supportive. And it can feel like a lot of responsibility when a spouse or other loved one depends on your care and support as they go through breast cancer treatment.
But you are already taking an important step in being a good support person or caregiver by seeking out information on how you can best support your loved one with breast cancer.
Below are some resources to help you get informed about your loved one’s disease, what they may go through during treatment, and tips for providing care and support without neglecting your own emotional needs.
Types of breast cancer
A good way to better understand what your loved one is going through is to learn more about the specific type of breast cancer they have been diagnosed with.
Breast cancers can vary in where they start in the breast, whether and where they have spread, and what special features they have that influence how they behave and how they are treated.
Learn more at Types of Breast Cancer.
Learn more about the stages of breast cancer.
Treatments for breast cancer
After your loved one has imaging tests and a sample of cancer tissue removed (called a biopsy) to confirm a diagnosis of breast cancer, they will work with their doctors to put together a treatment plan. Breast cancer treatment plans can vary depending on the exact diagnosis. But they can include a combination of the below treatment options.
Surgery to remove the cancer is usually — but not always — the first step in a breast cancer treatment plan. Your loved one’s doctors will recommend either a lumpectomy, which removes the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue, or a mastectomy, which removes all of the breast tissue. Your loved one can also discuss breast reconstruction options with a plastic surgeon if that is important to them.
Learn more at Surgery.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or particles to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. If surgery is part of your loved one’s breast cancer treatment plan, their doctor may recommend radiation therapy after surgery. This is to destroy any cancer cells that may remain after surgery and help lower the risk of the cancer coming back. Radiation therapy is sometimes recommended for other situations, too.
Learn more at Radiation Therapy.
Chemotherapy uses medicine to weaken and kill cancer cells at the original cancer site and anywhere else cancer cells may have spread in the body. Depending on the diagnosis, chemotherapy may be given after surgery to help lower the risk of the cancer coming back. In some cases, chemotherapy may be recommended before surgery to shrink the tumor. Chemotherapy is also used to treat breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (called metastatic breast cancer).
Learn more at Chemotherapy.
If your loved one has been diagnosed with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, their doctor may recommend hormonal therapy (also called endocrine therapy or anti-estrogen therapy). Estrogen makes hormone receptor-positive breast cancers grow. Hormonal therapy medicines lower the amount of estrogen in the body and block the action of estrogen on breast cancer cells, which helps lower the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery.
Learn more at Hormonal Therapy.
Targeted therapies are treatments that target specific characteristics of cancer cells, such as a protein that allows the cancer cells to grow in a rapid or abnormal way.
Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab), for example, is used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer, which means the cancer cells make too many copies of a gene called HER2. This medicine works by targeting HER2 receptors on the breast cancer cells.
Learn more at Targeted Therapy.
Immunotherapy medicines use the power of the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Cancer immunotherapy medicines work by helping the immune system work harder or more efficiently to fight cancer cells.
Learn more at Immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy Side EffectsMar. 3, 2021
Helping your loved one stay safe during COVID-19
Figuring out how to safely support or care for someone with cancer can be particularly difficult right now. Caregivers and loved ones should be aware that people with cancer have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get COVID-19, particularly if they’re being treated with chemotherapy or other medicines that can weaken the immune system. Everyone who comes into contact with someone who has cancer should be extra vigilant about safety during this time.
Learn more about caring for someone with breast cancer during COVID-19.
Caring for someone with metastatic breast cancer
Breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (called stage IV or metastatic breast cancer) is different than early-stage breast cancer. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, and the goals of treatment are to control it for as long as possible.
In order to provide the best support possible to someone living with metastatic breast cancer, that person’s caregivers and supporters will likely need some guidance themselves.
Here are some resources that may help.
Caregiving for a Person With Metastatic Breast CancerDec. 13, 2018
Taking care of yourself
It’s important to acknowledge that a loved one’s cancer diagnosis affects you, too, especially if you are their primary caregiver. Here are some resources and personal stories that may help you remember to make time for you and seek support when you need it.