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As with any treatment, you need to weigh the likely ‘benefit’ against the likely ‘cost’. These are some of the questions to which you will need answers:

-What is the aim of the surgery?

-What is the chance of achieving that aim?

-Would there be a better chance of achieving that aim if I had other forms of treatment as well as, or instead of, the surgery?

-What would it cost financially?

-How would I look afterwards? (You can ask to see photos of patients who have had the proposed operation.)

-What would be removed or damaged?

-How would my body function without these parts?

-Can other parts of my body take over the function of the removed or damaged parts?

-Is there some artificial means of doing this? If so, what exactly would it involve for me?

-What is the risk of dying during or soon after the operation?

-What complications are likely?

-Can they be treated?

-Would they be temporary or permanent?

-How long would I be in hospital?

-How long, if ever, before I would return to normal?

You will get the most accurate answers to these questions from surgeons who have a lot of experience with the particular operation under consideration. These surgeons are also most likely to ‘deliver the goods’, that is, to carry out the proposed operation skilfully and to actually achieve the promised results. Ask your surgeon how many of these particular operations he or she has done, whether or not you suspect lack of experience because you are getting vague or evasive answers to your questions. Ask if there are surgeons in your area who specialise in this type of operation. If there are, ask for a referral to them. Don’t settle for an inexperienced surgeon because you don’t wish to give offence. Your health and comfort are more important than that.

Remember, there are always alternatives. Ask about these if they are not volunteered. What other forms of treatments are possible, including those whose aims are not the same as the proposed surgery? What is the likely benefit and likely cost of each? Don’t forget there is always the possibility of having no anti-cancer treatment at all. This possibility will rarely be mentioned, so you will probably have to ask directly. Try to find out what is likely to happen if you have no actual anti-cancer treatment.


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