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Breast Cancer Surgery

Getting ready for surgery

Most patients go home the same day of surgery. How long you stay in hospital will depend on the type of surgery and your recovery.

The information below is a guideline. Please follow any specific instructions for your surgery given to you by your local site.

The pre-admission clinic (PAC)

The staff at the pre-admission clinic (PAC) will call you. You may need to go in person for a consult. Either over the phone or in person, the PAC healthcare team will:

  • ask questions about your health and medical history to make sure you can safely have surgery.
  • explain how you can prepare for your surgery and what to expect in the hospital.
  • arrange the tests that your doctors have ordered. These tests could include blood tests, ECG (a test for your heart), and chest X-Ray.
  • ask you what medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal products you take. They will then tell you what medicine(s) to stop taking and when to stop taking them before your surgery.

Make sure you write down which medicine you can take and what medications you should hold for surgery or stop altogether.

You can use the free Alberta Health Services My Care Conversations app to prepare for your next appointment and to audio record conversations with your healthcare team. You can listen to your recordings at home and share with family or trusted friends. Download the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Tests before surgery

Your medical team may order some tests before your surgery date.

These may include:

  • Blood work
  • Chest X-ray, ECG
  • Other special tests or consults if needed

Surgery date and time

It takes time after your clinic visit (where you gave your agreement/consent for the surgery), to get a surgery date.

  • A member of your healthcare team will call you to tell you when your surgery is scheduled
  • You will find out the time of your surgery the business day before (business days are Mondays–Fridays, not including holidays)
  • Be sure to find out the best place to park and where to go in the hospital before you go.

Plan ahead

  • Practical help and support. Make sure you have someone to drive you to and from the hospital. For same day surgery, someone should stay overnight with you the first night.
  • Food preparation. Prepare and freeze meals ahead of time so that all you’ll need to do is re-heat the food once you’re home.
  • Exercise. Try to be in the best shape possible before surgery. If you don’t exercise or exercise regularly, start slowly. Short walks help to build strength.
  • Arm and shoulder exercises. Do the arm and shoulder exercises before surgery so you have a baseline of what you can do.
  • Pain medication. If you already take prescription pain medication, tell your nurse and/or anesthesiologist. Keep taking your prescription pain medication as usual up to the morning of surgery, unless the PAC medical team gave you different instructions. After surgery, the pain medication or dose may have to be changed as your body heals and recovers from surgery.
  • Immunizations (including flu shots). No immunizations within 14 days of your surgery.
  • Stop smoking. It prevents problems with your lungs after surgery and helps you heal faster. Talk to your doctor about ways to stop smoking.
  • Stop drinking alcohol. Don’t drink alcohol 24 hours before surgery. Talk to your doctor if you need help cutting down or stopping.
  • Benefits, work, or insurance forms. Find out what’s covered with your benefit plan and plan ahead for any work or insurance forms. Let your nurse and doctor know if you need forms completed.
  • Recreational drugs. Stop using recreational drugs (such as marijuana) and “uppers” (like cocaine, crack, and PCP) before surgery. These drugs can have serious side effects when mixed with the medication used during surgery or the pain medication used after surgery. Your surgeon, nurse, and/or anesthesiologist need to know if you use recreational drugs – they aren’t there to judge.
  • Shaving. Do not shave for surgery. The surgical nurses will shave you if needed.

You may be wondering if you can bank your own blood in case you need a transfusion. It’s important to know that blood transfusions are not usually needed during breast surgery. Your team cannot bank or store your blood.

Localization with seed or wire

If you are having breast-conserving surgery, you may need to have a procedure called a localization done first. Common localizations are done with a wire (needle) or by implanting a seed, which may be radioactive. This is done so that the surgeon knows exactly what tissue to remove when your surgeon cannot feel the cancer.

This procedure is usually done either in:

  • the Radiology Department at the hospital where you’re having your surgery or
  • a community Diagnostic Imaging Centre

The radiologist will insert a fine wire or seed close to the area of concern using a mammogram or ultrasound for guidance. The wire or seed will be removed by your surgeon when you have surgery.

If you need a wire or seed localization, your healthcare team will talk to you about the best option for you.

  • Seed localization: Can be done 1 to 7 days before your surgery or the day of your surgery.
  • Wire localization: Done the day of your surgery.​

Depending on the procedure you have, you may need a ride home or to the hospital after the procedure. It’s safe to wear your seatbelt in the car.

​​​​​​​​​​​ Guided by an ultrasound, a radiologist uses a wire placement needle to insert a wire or seed close to the mass in a breast

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Medication instructions

Before surgery, write down the instructions you should follow.

If you are diabetic, get instructions from your doctor or from the doctors at that appointment for your insulin or diabetic pills (metformin).

If you take Celebrex, continue this medication unless your doctor tells you differently.

Can I take my regular medication?

Your surgeon, or the Pre-Admission Clinic nurses or doctors will tell you what medication you can take on the day of surgery.

Day and night before surgery

Eating and drinking

Follow the instructions you were given to make sure that your surgery is not cancelled. This is to prevent food or fluid going into your lungs (aspiration) during your surgery. Aspiration can be life-threatening.

Clear fluids are allowed, but follow the directions you were given. Clear fluids include:

  • Jello; strained broth/consommé soup; clear fruit juices with no pulp (such as apple juice)
  • Black tea or coffee (no milk or cream but sugar or sweeteners are okay)
  • Pop, sports drinks such as Gatorade, or water

Milk, cream, butter, cream soups, or orange juice are not clear fluids.

Do not smoke or drink alcohol for 24 hours before your surgery.

Confirming your time

You should have already been told how to confirm your hospital appointment time. Make sure you know:

  • The date of your surgery.
  • What time you need to be at the hospital.
  • Where to go when you get to the hospital.
  • The best place to park.

If you have to cancel your surgery, call your surgeon’s office right away. Make sure you have your surgeon’s office phone number ahead of time.

If you can’t reach your surgeon, call the hospital. Make sure you have the hospital’s phone number ahead of time.

Follow the pre-surgery instructions you’ve been given or your surgery may have to be cancelled.

Night before or morning of

Before you go to bed or the morning of your surgery:

  • take a shower or bath
  • do not shave your armpits
  • do not use any creams, lotions, or anything with a scent
  • wear clean pyjamas or clothes after showering
  • do not wear makeup on the day of your surgery
  • do not wear contact lenses on the day of your surgery
  • take off all jewellery and take out all piercings

It is okay to leave nail polish, gel or acrylic nails on.​​​​​​

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