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What to ask your doctor about breast cancer surgery

Men and women discussing breast cancer

Breast cancer surgery is a complex topic. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor. There are questions about


Before surgery

  • What kind of operation do I need?
  • What is the exact name of the operation?
  • Will I need more than one operation?
  • Do I have a choice between having the lump removed or having my whole breast removed?
  • Can I avoid radiotherapy by having a mastectomy?
  • Is there any breast cancer treatment I should have before my operation?
  • Can I avoid a mastectomy by having treatment to shrink my cancer?
  • What will my breast look like after surgery?
  • What will the scars look like?
  • Can I see the breast care nurse before the operation?
  • Can I meet any other women who've had this type of surgery for breast cancer?
  • How will the surgery affect me and how long will it take to get over it?
  • How will you check my lymph nodes? How will this affect me?
  • How will you control my pain after the operation?
  • Should I stop smoking before I have surgery and how will this help?
  • Should I stop taking HRT?
  • Will I need other treatment after surgery?

If you need a mastectomy


Breast reconstruction

  • Would breast reconstruction be appropriate for me?
  • Would you advise me to have breast reconstruction at the same time as mastectomy?
  • If you would not recommend reconstruction at the same time, please explain why
  • What method would be best for me – do I have a choice?
  • What are the advantages and risks of each method?
  • What do you do about my nipple?
  • Can I have nipple reconstruction?
  • Will I need to wear a false nipple (click for organisations offering nipple prostheses)
  • Is there a specialist in the hospital who does breast reconstruction?
  • If there is no breast reconstruction specialist in the hospital, can you recommend a surgeon in my area?
  • How often do you do this type of surgery?
  • Can you show me pictures of other reconstructions you have done?
  • Can you put me in touch with other patients who have had this type of reconstruction?
  • Will I have scars?
  • Where will the scars be and what will they be like?
  • How will you control my pain after the operation?
  • How long will it take to get over the operation and get back to normal?
  • In your experience, how often do complications occur?
  • Which complications are most common?
  • Is there a waiting list for my type of surgery?

After surgery

  • How long will I need to stay in hospital?
  • What can I do to help myself recover?
  • What exercises should I do for my arm and shoulder?
  • Will I see a breast cancer nurse after my operation?
  • What other support is available in my area for people with cancer?
  • What is lymphoedema – how can I help to prevent it?
  • How long will it take to get back to normal?
  • How long before I can drive, do housework, play sport?
  • What housework can I do when I go home?
  • Is there anything I shouldn't do?
  • Can I go abroad?
  • Is it OK for me to fly?
  • Will the surgery affect my travel insurance and health insurance?
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Updated: 31 July 2014