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What happens before breast cancer surgery?

The common biopsy procedures let you find out if you have breast cancer within a few days of your biopsy, but the extent of the breast cancer will not be known until after imaging tests and the surgery for local treatment are done.

Usually, you meet with your surgeon a few days before the operation to discuss the procedure. This is a good time to ask specific questions about the surgery and review potential risks. Be sure you understand what the extent of the surgery is likely to be and what you should expect afterward. If you are thinking about breast reconstruction, ask about this as well.

You will be asked to sign a consent form, giving the doctor permission to perform the surgery. Take your time and review the form carefully to be certain that you understand what you are signing. Sometimes, doctors send material for you to review in advance of your appointment, so you will have plenty of time to read it and won't feel rushed. You may also be asked to give consent for researchers to use any tissue or blood that is not needed for diagnostic purposes. Although this may not be of direct use to you, it may be very helpful to women in the future.

You may be asked to donate blood before some operations, such as a mastectomy combined with natural tissue reconstruction, if the doctors think a transfusion might be needed. You might feel more secure knowing that if a transfusion is needed, you will receive your own blood. If you do not receive your own blood, it is important to know that in the United States, blood transfusion from another person is nearly as safe as receiving your own blood. Ask your doctor about your possible need for a blood transfusion.

Your doctor will review your medical records and ask you about any medicines you are taking. This is to be sure that you are not taking anything that might interfere with the surgery. For example, if you are taking aspirin, arthritis medicine, or a blood-thinning drug (like coumadin), you may be asked to stop taking the drug about a week or 2 before the surgery. Be sure you tell your doctor about everything you take, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Usually, you will be told not to eat or drink anything for 8 to 12 hours before the surgery, especially if you are going to have general anesthesia (will be asleep during surgery).

You will also meet with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist, the health professional who will be giving you the anesthesia during your surgery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.