MJ DeCoteau was 22 years old when her mom died of breast cancer. DeCoteau believes her mom would have had a different outcome if she were diagnosed today.

“There are new treatments and we know so much more about breast cancers. When my mom was diagnosed, it was more of a one size fits all. Today, we are seeing so many subtypes of breast cancer with treatments that specifically target the way the specific cancer cells behave,” says DeCoteau, founder of Rethink Breast Cancer, which educates, empowers and advocates for people affected by breast cancer.

As someone who has gone through a diagnosis of breast cancer, Cathy Ammendolea, Chair of the board of directors of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, remembers when she was diagnosed with the disease in 2000 and how many questions she had. Learning about cancer and treatment was like learning a whole new language. Cathy says it is important for patients to ask questions and be involved in treatment decision-making.

Indeed, breast cancer is not just one disease, says Dr. Christine Brezden-Masley, Director of the Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre, Sinai Health in Toronto. There are three major subgroups of breast cancer, and these subgroups are made up of more subgroups. “We are learning more and more about specific targets and who benefits from certain therapies. Many of these novel therapies are being moved up to earlier stage disease, thereby curing more patients. We are understanding patterns of recurrence and how to prevent this with targeted therapies,” says Dr. Brezden-Masley. “Significant advances are improving survival and allowing women to live longer with advanced disease.”

Treatment advances provide more choice to patients

These advances mean patients have more choice in their breast cancer treatment. “There have been a lot of exciting breakthroughs in how breast cancer is diagnosed and treated,” says Cathy. “Patients and physicians have more and more targeted treatment options available and that is wonderful. But because of the complexity of personalized treatment, there is a lot that individuals need to learn. The choices can be overwhelming.”

DeCoteau agrees. “Shared decision-making is about ensuring your healthcare team sees you as a whole person with your own values and goals. New treatments provide increasing opportunities for patients and physicians to choose the treatment that’s going to align best with your needs and preferences and goals,” she says.

Open dialogue is integral to determining the best treatment

Dr. Brezden-Masley says it is essential for patients to ask questions and share in care decisions. “Ask about clinical trials, ask about outcomes, ask about side effects,” she says, adding that finding support groups and credible information from sources including Rethink Breast Cancer and the Canadian Breast Cancer Network is extremely helpful.

“The patient is integral to determining what is best for them. It’s important they have an open dialogue with their treating team. Patients need to understand the treatment and the side effects and it all needs to be in line with the patient’s goals.”

To learn more, visit cbcn.ca and rethinkbreastcancer.com


MJ DeCoteau, Founder + Executive Director, Rethink Breast Cancer


Cathy Ammendolea, Chair of the board of directors, Canadian Breast Cancer Network


Dr. Christine Brezden-Masley, Director, Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre, Sinai Health