Make sure you're clear on the answers to all of these questions before your lumpectomy or mastectomy.
1. Why am I having a lumpectomy and not a mastectomy (or vice versa)? Some women who'd like to have breast-conserving surgery (aka a lumpectomy) aren't candidates because their tumor is too big to allow a surgeon to remove it without dramatically changing the breast's appearance. Other women may want a mastectomy, thinking this will eliminate the chance of recurrence, but then learn that no treatment gives a 100% guarantee that you'll be cancer-free for the rest of your life.
2. What's involved with this surgery? Make sure you understand what will actually happen during your procedure, including the sentinel node biopsy if one will be done. If it is done, you'll be under anesthesia longer as your surgeon will be getting the lymph nodes tested to see if they show cancer cells. If they do show it, your surgeon will mostly likely do an axillary lymph node dissectionalso while you're still outin order to remove the lymph nodes.
3. What's the recovery like? Find out how long you'll be in the hospital or clinic (a lumpectomy is an out-patient procedure); how long the recovery period will be; any limitations to activity (you're generally not supposed to drive right after a mastectomy, for example); any changes in sensation to your breast to expect; and what to expect in the appearance of your breast(s).
4. Does one procedure offer a better chance for survival for my cancer diagnosis? If you have early-stage (I or II) breast cancer, studies are clear that in most cases, doing a lumpectomy followed by radiation offers you the same chance for a later recurrence and for survival as doing a mastectomy. But you'll want your doctor to weigh up the unique characteristics of your tumor to be sure whatever surgery you opt for is truly the best choice in your case.
5. How do I take care of myself after the surgery? Your doctor or her nurse should take time to talk to you about wound care, dealing with drains, and when to come back to see your surgeon after your operation for a check-up.