When surgery becomes part of your breast cancer treatment, which is common, it's important that you know what to expect. Here are some key questions you can ask your physician and surgeon before you enter the operating theater.
Once your physician has decided on surgery and you're scheduled to go into a consultation with your surgeon, it's important to know what you need to ask and what you should be concerned with before surgery is scheduled. Know your recommended surgeon's reputation before you go to his or her office and if you have questions about their capabilities, request a different referral from your doctor.
What type of surgery will you recommend?
You may be a candidate for lumpectomy, partial breast removal, or require a full mastectomy. Find out what your options are. In all of these, also find out whether reconstruction can be done post-op or if it will have to wait until later, if at all. Learn the benefits and risks of all approaches recommended for you so you can make an informed decision on which to undertake.
Most likely your surgery will involve the removal of lymph nodes. Learn which ones and what the side effects may be.
Will chemotherapy or radiation therapy be recommended before surgery? After?
The surgeon will often recommend pre-surgical treatments such as chemo or radiation. Post-operative therapies are also likely to be recommended along the same vein. These may affect other aspects of the surgery, such as expected recovery time and whether breast reconstruction can take place immediately.
What should you personally be doing before and after surgery?
Some surgeons will recommend stopping some medications or supplementation before the surgery. Others might recommend that you take extra supplements such as Vitamin C or D to help boost your immune system to fight off infection or post-operative treatments.
What happens to the removed tissues?
During breast cancer surgery, the tumor and surrounding tissues are removed. Find out what happens to those and if they're stored, where they are stored and for how long. The standard is to keep samples for research in your case and destroy the rest, but you may be able to get the surgeon or your physician to recommend that all tissues be saved for a stated amount of time to allow for further testing. What happens will depend on where you live and your specific case.
What about post operation?
Obvious questions such as expected recovery time, potential side effects and delays to that recovery, and so forth should be covered. You should also ask specifics about the anesthesia to be used and how long its effects will last, how soon you can be expected to leave the hospital and go home, and what your after-care will look like. Details such as living wills and powers of attorney should also be discussed to cover bases, just in case.