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CIBC Breast Centre

Your journey through breast cancer

This map describes what many women diagnosed with breast cancer experience throughout their journey. It provides a brief overview of possible treatments, members of your health care team, and a rough timeline of the journey.

Every breast cancer journey is different just like every breast cancer patient is different. For this reason, it is important to remember that the information in this map is meant as a general guideline and is not specific to any one person or diagnosis.

+ Finding a lump: Is it breast cancer?

If a suspicious lump is found, then the family doctor or primary healthcare provider sends me to have imaging tests and/or a biopsy done.

Family doctor or primary health care provider
The family doctor or primary healthcare provider looks after my general health care. If the results from my mammogram or breast exam are suspicious, the family doctor or primary health care provider sends to me the radiation technologist for further testing.

Radiation technologist
A radiation technologist does the mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast.

The radiologist is a doctor who reads and makes sense of the results from imaging tests, such as mammograms. A radiologist can also do a biopsy. A biopsy is when a thin needle is used to remove small amounts of tissue from the breast.

+ Getting the news: I have breast cancer

If the imaging and/or biopsy results are positive for breast cancer, the test results are sent back to my family doctor or primary health care provider who should refer me to a surgeon as soon as possible.


More than ever, now is an important time to remember that I am the most important member of my health care team.

Throughout my cancer journey, there are many things I can do, such as:
  • I can learn about my cancer so that I make the right choices about treatment.
  • I can talk to my healthcare team about any questions and concerns that I have. That is why I should write these questions down as soon as I think of them.
  • I can write down all the different appointments to stay organized.
  • I can ask my health care team how to contact them between my appointments if I have questions.
  • It is very important to keep my body as healthy as I can while I have breast cancer. I can do this by exercising, eating well, and managing my stress.

+ Surgery: Taking out the tumour

Breast reconstruction: do I want it?

Usually, surgery is the first step in treating breast cancer. The type of surgery that I may have depends on many different factors, such as what my mammogram and biopsy results show about my cancer.

A surgeon is a doctor who goes over my biopsy and other test results with me, including information such as how big the cancer is and if it has spread outside of the breast. Together, we then decide which surgery is right for me. There are two types of surgeries:
  • Lumpectomy: A lumpectomy is a surgery that removes the tumour and a small circle of healthy breast tissue around the tumour.
  • Mastectomy: A mastectomy is a surgery that removes the whole breast.

Registered nurse
A registered nurse works with the surgeon and the rest of the healthcare team to help me during and after my surgery. Registered nurses can teach me more about my cancer and its treatments.

IF I want breast reconstruction (a surgery to rebuild the breast), I should:
  • talk to my surgeon about when I should have the reconstruction done.
  • get a referral to a plastic surgeon.

Breast reconstruction is either immediate or delayed.
  • Immediate reconstruction is done at the same time as a mastectomy.
  • Delayed reconstruction is done after surgery, when chemotherapy or radiation therapy is completed.

+ After the surgery: Do I need more treatment?

After the surgery, the surgeon will discuss the pathology report with me and most likely refer me to a cancer clinic, where I may talk about further treatment options with an oncologist.

The pathologist is a doctor who looks at the cancer tissue that was taken out in surgery and writes a summary that describes the stage of my cancer and if I will need more treatment. This is known as my pathology report. The report is sent to my surgeon who should then refer me to a cancer clinic where I will meet with an oncologist (a cancer specialist).

+ Additional treatment therapies

Begins 4 - 8 weeks after surgery

Chemotherapy can last from 3-6 months
Radiation can last 3-5 weeks

Chemotherapy/Hormone therapy

At my first appointment with an oncologist, I will find out if I need more treatment. If I do, then my oncologist will talk to me about what treatment plan is right for me. It is possible that I will meet with both a medical and radiation oncologist.

Medical oncologist
A medical oncologist is a doctor that treats cancer through different drugs This is known as chemotherapy. A medical oncologist also uses medication to treat cancer through hormone therapy. I should ask my medical oncologist for more information about which drugs or combination of drugs will work best for me.

Radiation oncologist
A radiation oncologist is a doctor that treats cancer using high-energy X-rays. This is known as radiation therapy.

Oncology nurse
An oncology nurse cares for patients living with a cancer diagnosis. He/she is trained to administer the chemotherapy treatments as well as educate and support me throughout treatment and recovery.

Oncology Social Worker or Patient Navigator
An oncology social worker or patient navigator helps patients deal with the non-medical aspects of breast cancer. They can connect me with resources related to coping, financial aid, drug benefits, local support, and much more.

+ Life after cancer: follow-up

It is normal to have concerns about the cancer coming back. That is why it is a good idea to talk about a followup plan with my oncologist.

Discussing a follow-up plan with the oncologist will allow the health care team to:
  • keep track of side effects and symptoms
  • detect early signs of the cancer coming back

Family doctor or primary health care provider
Getting regular check-ups with my family doctor or primary healthcare provider is also important. I can ask my family doctor or primary health care provider how often I should get these check-ups. If I do not have a family doctor, I should look at page 25 in The People You Might Meet On Your Breast Cancer Journey: Your Healthcare Team tool to get more information on how to find one.

+ Credits

Authors: Tae Hart, PhD, Aliza Panjwani, BA, Susan Blacker, MSW, Mike Evans, MD, and Heather McGaw, BDes.
Institutions: St. Michael’s Hospital & Ryerson University
Acknowledgments: Ralph George, MD FRCSC, Miriam Sweet Goldstein, RN MEd, Terry Cheng, PhD, MSW, Janet Papadakos, MEd, Tina Papadakos, MEd, Lynne Penberthy-Ritchie, RN B.ScN, Irene Pryshlak, RN and all the women who participated in our focus groups to develop these materials.

This project was funded in part by a pilot grant from the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance.
Publication Information
© Copyrighted by St. Michael’s Hospital 2012.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the proper written permission of the copyright owner.