Questions you may wish to discuss with your doctor before surgery include:
What operation are you recommending?
Make sure you understand what is going to be removed, and ask your doctor to draw any pictures or diagrams if you need help understanding.
What are the benefits of having the operation?
Ask whether additional operations will be needed later and what effect the doctor expects the surgery to have on treating your cancer.
Are there alternatives to this type of surgery?
You want to feel comfortable that this operation is what you need now to treat your cancer. Alternatives may include other types of surgery, as well as medicines and radiation therapy, or even watchful waiting.
What are the risks of having the operation?
You will want to understand these risks and compare them to the benefits. Risks may include complications around the time of surgery, such as a reaction to anesthesia, infection, excessive bleeding or impact on other medical conditions you may already have. Side effects are another risk to understand, such as swelling and soreness at the incision site, and long-term effects from the removal of any body parts such as lymph nodes or portions of a major organ.
What is my prognosis if I don’t have this operation?
Find out from your physician or surgeon what the impact of delaying or not having the operation may be.
What about getting a second opinion?
A second opinion can be a good way to feel sure that you are getting the appropriate treatment for your cancer. Your insurance plan may even require you to get a second opinion. Check to see if your insurance will pay for one if it is not required. If you get a second opinion, be sure to bring all your records so that the second doctor does not need to repeat tests. You can learn about specialists for second opinions from your surgeon, your primary care doctor, the local medical society or your insurance.
What has been your experience with this operation?
Choose a surgeon who has experience and training in your recommended surgery. You may ask the surgeon directly about his or her success rate and rate of complications, or you may inquire through your primary care doctor or even your insurer. Check to see if your surgeon is “board certified,” which means he or she has taken special training and passed national exams in the specialty. Some surgeons have the letters F.A.C.S. after their names. This means the surgeon is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and has gone through exam and review by other surgeons within the specialty.
What kind of anesthesia will I need?
Anesthesia is used to prevent unnecessary pain. It may be local (around the incision site, as for a dental cavity), regional (numbing that region of the body around the site, as in an epidural), or general (affecting your whole body, usually making you unconscious). The length of time the numb sensation will last depends on how it is administered.
How long will it take me to recover?
Your surgeon can tell you the average time patients take to recover from the operation. Ask about what the steps to recovery should look and feel like, so you know what to expect as far as monitoring complications and side effects from surgery.
Will I need special help at home after the surgery?
Find out if there are restrictions on your activity at home, and whether you should have help, either from a loved one or from a professional. Find out about any special supplies or equipment you might need at home.