2. Which procedure do you recommend for me?If your surgeon favors one particular type of breast cancer surgery, this is the time to find out. You should be offered a choice, unless your cancer has spread beyond your breast, or you have multiple tumors, or an aggressive cancer. Follow up your surgeon's recommendation by asking:
- Why do you recommend this procedure?
- Can I talk with someone who has already had this surgery?
- How many lymph nodes may be removed?
- How likely is it that I will develop lymphedema?
- Will I need to take special care of my arm after surgery?
4. What are my odds of recurrence after this surgery?What you're asking here is how much tissue has to be removed to reduce your risk of a recurrence. Your surgeon can't give you a gold-plated guarantee that any particular surgery will protect you from more breast cancer. But a good surgeon should be able to help you weigh the risks and benefits of your chosen surgical procedure.
5. What will my cosmetic result be?After surgery to remove breast tissue, you may no longer be symmetrical. There are techniques to cope with, repair, or reconstruct a breast. Your results will vary, depending on the size of your breasts before surgery, the size and extent of your tumor, and the type of surgery you choose. It's better to be prepared for your post-surgical appearance, than to face an unexpected result. To help you envision your future appearance, you might ask:
6. How long will this surgery take and what kind of anesthesia will be used?You will receive anesthesia to put you to sleep during breast surgery. The more complex your procedures are, the longer you will be under anesthesia. It's important that your surgeon and your anesthesiologist work together to guard your safety and manage your pain during your surgery. Ask:
- What kind of anesthesia will I have?
- What risks are associated with this kind of anesthesia?
- Will I be intubated?
- Can I be pretreated for nausea?
7. What should I expect to feel like during recovery?You will need to plan on some time to rest and recovery after surgery. Don't return to normal activities right away, and do let someone else help you with tasks until your strength returns. You may want to ask:
- Will I need special exercises to help regain full motion and strength in my arm and shoulder?
- Would you refer me to a physical therapist or a Reach to Recovery volunteer who can show me how to do the exercises?
- If I have a mastectomy, am I a good candidate for reconstructive surgery?
- What kinds of reconstruction options do I have?
- Is a skin-sparing mastectomy a good idea for me?
- How soon can I have breast reconstruction done?
- Would you recommend a plastic surgeon for me?
- Would you connect me with other patients who have had breast reconstruction?
Sources: What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer – Treatment. National Cancer Institute. Updated: 11/01/2007.
Surgery for Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 05/13/2009.
What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer – Treatment. National Cancer Institute. Updated: 11/01/2007.