I hope you are enjoying the festive period. It always goes so quickly despite the weeks of preparation.
I’m going to continue to focus on treatment options today and today’s blog post will concentrate on surgery.
Surgery literally means cutting tissue from the body. This can be a relatively simple procedure done as an outpatient, or it can be more complicated and result in a stay as an inpatient. Sometimes you will have local anesthetic and be awake for the procedure, other times you will be knocked out with general anesthetic.
Cancer and Surgery:
Surgery is used in many ways when it comes to cancer:
A biopsy can be used to diagnose cancer. This means a small piece of tissue will be removed by a surgeon to be analyzed. If this contains cancerous cells then it may be able to show what type of cancer and how aggressive it is.
Surgery is one of the most important treatments for cancer. As I repeat often, cancer is usually easier to treat the earlier it is found and often surgery may be the only treatment needed in those cases where the cancer is found early. Surgery can cure cancer that is localized to one area and has not yet started to spread. Your surgeon will try to remove the tumour as well as normal tissue surrounding it. This is known as a clear margin. The closest lymph nodes are also removed in some cases.
Unfortunately sometimes surgeons will discover that the cancer has started to spread during an operation. In these cases, the surgery plan may need to be altered, may take longer or may be abandoned altogether.
Surgery is not usually able to cure cancers that have spread by themselves. In these cases, other treatments, such as chemotherapy, may also be used.
Surgery can also be used to reconstruct body parts that have to be removed due to cancer. For example, Georgie had his jaw replaced by other body tissues whilst suffering from osteosarcoma. Another example is ladies that have to have mastectomies can have their breasts reconstructed.
Surgery can also be used to prevent or reduce your cancer risk. Many celebrities in recent years, including Sharon Osbourne and Angelina Jolie, have had mastectomies after discovering they carry the BRCA gene that can increase their risk of developing breast cancer. Some people with these kind of gene mutations can opt for surgeries that may reduce their risk of developing the disease.
Surgery is also used to extend the patients life and relieve them of their symptoms if their cancer cannot be cured. For example, blockages can be removed and tumours pressing on nerves or organs can be removed.
Surgery may also be used within other treatments, for example, a central line can be inserted into the main vein in your chest to provide you with chemotherapy.
When Surgery is Used:
Some cancer types can be treated with surgery alone, others need surgery alongside other treatment and some people don’t need surgery. Your cancer type and its stage and grade will be taken into consideration when your medical team are trying to decide if surgery is an option for you. Your general health will also be considered.
The position of your tumour is also important as if it is in a delicate position, for example, need a blood vessel, then the risk of surgery causing a lot of damage may be too great.
Surgery is not used for all cancer types. For example, Leukaemia is not usually treated with surgery.
What to Expect with Surgery:
Your surgery will depend on a number of factors, these factors will dictate how complicated your surgery will be and whether you will need to be monitored by hospital staff as an inpatient.
Depending on your cancer type and how aggressive it is, you may have a few weeks between finding out you need surgery and your actual surgery date. This will give you time to prepare and to sort things such as work and childcare out. It can also be a very worrying time and it is completely normal to feel nervous before a surgery.
It can be worthwhile to use this time to write a list of any questions you have to ask your medical team. It is vital you and your loved ones are clear about what you need to do before and after the operation as well as knowing what you can all expect after the surgery. You can also use this time to try and sort out a fertility back up, if you are going to be considering having a family once your cancer ordeal is over.
It is also vital to prepare your body for surgery as best you can – try to cut down or stop smoking and drinking alcohol. Eat healthily and try to get some rest if you can.
If you are going to be staying in hospital, use this preparation time to get some things together for your stay – books, magazines, music, films, nice pajamas etc….
If you are very nervous then there are meditation and relaxation methods you could try to ease your emotions in the run up to your surgery.
There are tests everyone has to do before having surgery to check you are ok to have anesthetic and surgery. These include electrocardiogram to check your heart, chest x rays for your lungs, blood tests for your blood count and ability to fight infections and urine tests for kidney function.
You will meet the team in charge of your care before having your surgery, including the surgeon and the anesthetist. Be sure to ask them any questions you have.
You will need to sign consent forms before surgery. This is a written agreement giving the surgeon permission to do the operation. Before you sign, your surgeon should sit you down and explain why you need the operation, whether you have any other treatment options, the aim of the surgery, the risks and complications, how the surgery will be done and any possible side effects. All this information should be written down for you but please make sure you are clear about everything before you sign the form. Ask any questions – the surgeon really won’t mind!
Make sure you follow any rules in the build up to surgery with regards to food and drink, jewellery and make up, contact lenses, false teeth etc….
If you are having an anesthetic then this will all be explained to you before hand.
It is completely normal to feel sleepy, groggy, cold, sick, sad, tearful and anxious and confused after surgery. Some people won’t feel this way and others will, it completely depends on the patient. You will be continuously checked on by the nurses looking after you so they can keep an eye on your blood pressure, pulse and your temperature as well as the surgery wound.
You will be monitored for possible problems after surgery such as infections, blood clots and fluid around the wound, although hopefully you won’t have to endure any of that. You may need physiotherapy or some other kind of aftercare but that will all be described to you.Any pain you have should be well controlled and should subside gradually. Make sure you tell your nurse if you don’t think you have enough pain relief.
Surgery can be a very successful way of treating cancer. It is also a very scary time for anyone. I hope this blog post has helped in some way and I really do hope anyone approaching their surgery date is well looked after and comes out fighting fit.
As always, my very very best wishes to anyone suffering from cancer.