Questions for your Breast Surgeon and Medical Oncologist:
- Will you give me a copy of my “breast biopsy pathology report?”
- What do my receptors mean?
- Will you give me a copy of my “surgical pathology report?”
- What stage is my breast cancer?
- May I have a copy of my “Operative Report” and “History and Physical?”
Two Types of Pathology Reports:
Breast Biopsy Report:
The first report you will encounter is your breast biopsy report. This identifies whether or not you have a breast cancer. The initial report only tells you the type of breast cancer and is available 1 to 3 days after a needle biopsy is performed. Over the next week, the receptor results are reported and amended to the initial report. Make sure to get a final copy of your breast biopsy report from your surgeon that includes the receptor information. It is critical information for you to know and keep as a record of your cancer for the future.
The “type” of cancer sets the direction of your cancer treatment. Breast cancer is classified into invasive or non-invasive disease and also are given names based on their “cell type.” The Estrogen receptor (ER), Progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2 receptor results are also incredibly important for you to understand. Ask both your surgeon and medical oncologist if the receptors mean you will ultimately need chemotherapy. The receptor results from your biopsy report can often tell you early on in your journey that you may benefit from chemotherapy, even before surgery. Review our lesson “My Tumor Receptors” to better understand what this means to your care and prognosis.
Surgical Pathology Report:
The second pathology report is the surgical pathology report. It is available about 3 to 5 days after your surgery. This is a detailed examination of the tumor size, margins, and possibly lymph node involvement. Your final stage of cancer should be included in this report. If it is not, ask your doctor to tell you if you have a Stage O, I, II, III, or IV breast cancer. Ask your medical oncologist what your stage of cancer means for your 5 and 10-year survival. Always ask for a copy of this report when you see your breast surgeon about a week after your breast surgery.
Your Surgeon’s “Operative” and “History & Physical” notes:
Also ask for a copy of your surgeon’s “Operative note” and “History and Physical” note. These documents provide an excellent summary of your breast cancer care. Keep for your own health records and share this information with new physicians in the future. You will likely not remember all of the details of your care years later. As time passes, these records are difficult to obtain from retired physicians or cumbersome hospital medical record departments.
Download this booklet (here) on “Your Guide to the Breast Pathology Report.” On page 45-46 of this booklet, there is a list of “Key Questions” and a “Checklist” of key items in your report. This non-profit organization provides excellent online and printable patient resources about breast cancer.
This outline (here) “What is a Pathology Report?” explains why it is important to have copies of your pathology report. The Susan G. Komen organization is a leading advocacy group dedicated to assisting patients, funding research, and ensuring quality breast cancer care.
Review their page “Interpreting Your Initial Pathology Report” (here) to better understand your breast biopsy report. This site was created for patients by the American Society of Breast Surgeons.
Their page (here) on “Your Pathology Report” has information about the specifics of tumor type, receptors, and other important information. Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing quality information about breast cancer to patients.
More Detailed References:
If you want to get deep into the details, this free 200-page pdf document (here) has guidelines to help clinicians to make treatment recommendations about nearly all aspects of breast cancer. You can easily register (here) as a non-professional to get access and more information about breast cancer. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network is the leading organization in developing clinical guidelines.