A Young Woman’s Guide To Breast Surgery

“What will happen at the GP surgery?”

Your GP will examine your breast to see the lump for him or herself. Don’t worry about being shy – GPs see thousands of boobs every year. If you want to take a friend or family member in with you, you can do so or you may wish to go alone.

Once the examination is complete, your GP will then write a letter to your local hospital so that you can see a consultant. This is usually someone who specialises in breast conditions or could even be a consultant surgeon, which means they carry out operations as well. The consultant may be either a man or a woman but if you would prefer to see a female consultant, you should ask your GP to refer you to one. A referral appointment will usually take a few weeks to arrive unless your GP thinks it is urgent, in which case a government target timescale has to be met. The timescale depends on whereabouts in the country you live.

“What will happen at the hospital?”

A hospital diagnosis will be carried out as an outpatient appointment – this means you won’t need to stay in hospital. Again, you may wish to bring a friend or family member with you or you may prefer to go on your own. When you arrive at the Outpatient Reception, you will be asked to fill in some forms with your personal details and any medical information. This is a standard procedure and these forms will become part of your hospital notes, which the consultant can refer to.

You will then have to wait in a waiting room until the consultant is ready to see you. Quite often, consultants run late so it’s a good idea to bring a book or a magazine to read!

When your name is called, you will be shown into a consulting room. If you’ve never been in one before, this is a private room that’s rather sparse! You’re likely to see a consulting couch or bed in one corner with a curtain or screen around it. There may be machinery scanners in the same room and there will probably be a table and chair. Sometimes there will be a nurse on standby as well.

The consultant will go through your notes and ask you about the lump. Then he or she will examine your breast.

In the first instance, breast examinations are carried out manually, ie with hands. This may be a little uncomfortable and possibly even embarrassing but it shouldn’t hurt. Some consultants like to use a device called an ultrasound. This is the same machinery that’s used for looking at babies in the womb – an ultrasound operator, sometimes called a radiographer, will cover your breast in a clear jelly and run a small hand-held probe over it. A black and white picture of the inside of your breast will then be displayed on a computer screen. This is a very clear way of looking at lumps inside the breast if a manual diagnosis proves inconclusive. It works in a similar way to a mammogram but is more suitable for younger women, whose breast tissue is more dense and therefore is difficult to read on a mammogram.

The next step is something called a fine needle aspiration, or FNA. This is basically a blood test in your boob and can be a bit uncomfortable but it will only last a few seconds. The blood and cells from the lump will then be placed on a slide and sent off to a laboratory for analysis. It will usually take a few weeks for the results to come through – you will either be sent a letter with these in or asked to call the hospital to find out the results. A follow-up appointment is usually made to discuss this.

Occasionally, if an FNA gives an inconclusive result, core biopsy will be made. This involves a slightly larger needle than an FNA and it literally removes a chunk of the lump, a bit like an apple corer. This procedure is normally carried out under a local anaesthetic so shouldn’t be able to feel it. Normally a few stitches will be used or a light dressing and you can expect to receive the results within a few weeks.

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