Health Magazine

A Woman’s Right to Know…An Appointment with the Surgeon

Posted on the 06 October 2011 by Jean Campbell

doctor talking about breast reconstructionYour appointment with the surgeon is about treatment. Yet, the surgeon may still want you to have additional tests so that he or she can have as much information about your cancer as possible.

The surgeon will discuss your surgical options with you. Whenever possible, surgeons recommend breast conserving surgery, what we know as a lumpectomy. A lumpectomy is the removal of the lump and sufficient surrounding tissue to make clear margins. Follow-up treatment for lumpectomy is radiation. A lumpectomy is usually done as an outpatient. Be sure you understand the procedure. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the differences between lumpectomy and mastectomy and the benefits and drawbacks of both procedures if you are unsure about opting for a lumpectomy.

If a mastectomy is necessary, the surgeon will discuss the procedure in detail. Ask as many questions as you need to understand the procedure. Mastectomy is an inpatient procedure. A hospital stay may be longer than 1-2 days if reconstruction is done on the same day as the mastectomy surgery.

Every woman facing a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy has the right to know her options when it comes to reconstruction. In my next post I will describe in detail a woman’s right to know and her health care team’s obligation to inform her of this right. The usual person to speak to a woman about this right is the surgeon.

If you are having a mastectomy, the surgeon should ask you if you are interested in breast reconstruction. If you are, the surgeon will refer you to a plastic surgeon for an in-depth discussion of your options so you can make an educated choice about reconstruction. Private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare pay for reconstruction.

If you are having a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy (both breasts removed), there will be a drain(s) following surgery, which will need emptying. There are camisoles that you can purchase that have pockets to hold the drain(s). Find out from the surgeon’s nurse or physician’s assistant where you can purchase these camisoles. I would suggest buying two, so you have a change.

If you choose not to have reconstruction, the same nurse or physician’s assistant can direct you to a boutique that can fit you for bras and a prosthesis(es). As a rule cancer, centers have in-house boutiques that stock all the items you will need from surgery through treatment. Staff, usually survivors, are trained to fit prostheses and wigs.

If the surgeon feels that shrinking your tumor before surgery is necessary, you may have chemotherapy prior to having surgery. The surgeon will refer you to a medical oncologist who will be responsible for your chemotherapy. Once the surgeon and the oncologist feel your tumor has shrunk sufficiently, the surgeon will proceed with surgery.

If, for any reason, you are not comfortable with the surgeon, perhaps he or she seems in a hurry to finish up with you or doesn’t seem to welcome questions, you need to move on to another surgeon. You need to feel confident and comfortable. You need to trust the surgeon enough that you are not second-guessing what he or she is recommending and to have faith that the surgeon will give you the best possible chance of a favorable outcome from your surgery.

To Be Continued…The Reconstruction Discussion

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