After you have discussed various options for surgery with your medical team and you have reached the decision to undergo a specific surgical procedure related to your mesothelioma, it will be important to know what to expect and how you can prepare. At this point, the surgical procedure is likely planned and scheduled, and you have already undergone a series of tests and consultations to determine your fitness for surgery. Your doctor has likely assessed your performance status (PS) and has decided that you are a candidate for the type of surgery for which you have been scheduled. What should you expect before you have this surgical procedure? And what can you do now to prepare for surgery in order to give yourself the best chances of having the surgical procedure go smoothly?
You should know that most people get nervous before having any type of surgery or anesthesia, and this is perfectly normal. It is also extremely common to feel anxious prior to a surgery related to mesothelioma symptoms or for mesothelioma treatment. Under ordinary circumstances, health care providers usually recommend that patients hold off on making any major life decisions when they are going through a stressful experience like a major surgery, but it is important to have honest discussions with your family about major decisions you will likely need to make in the near future concerning your mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment.
The following information will clarify how you will often be prepared for a surgery related to mesothelioma (including tests that may be conducted just prior to your surgery), as well as what steps you can take to keep yourself healthy and fit for surgery immediately prior to and after the surgery.
Tests Often Conducted Prior to a Surgical Procedure
The specific tests that you will need to have prior to a surgical procedure will depend upon your particular circumstances and the details of your suspected or diagnosed malignant mesothelioma case. In general, however, the following types of tests, which are also completed in cases to determine whether a patient is fit for surgery or is a good candidate for a specific surgical procedure, may be done shortly before the surgery is planned to ensure that you are ready. Some tests can also be conducted shortly prior to a surgical procedure in order to give the patient’s health care team the most recent and detailed information about their health and any potential areas of abnormality that will need to be biopsied in an exploratory surgical procedure or removed as part of a treatment-based surgery. The following are some of the common tests that may be conducted prior to surgery related to mesothelioma:
- X-ray: Many people have X-rays for a variety of reasons, and the Mayo Clinic defines an X-ray as “a quick, painless test that produces images of the structures inside your body — particularly your bones.” How does an X-ray work? The Mayo Clinic clarifies that “X-ray beams pass through your body, and they are absorbed in different amounts depending on the density of the material they pass through.” Sometimes contrast mediums like iodine or barium will be used so that the doctor evaluating your X-ray will be able to see more detail in the images.
- CT scan: Computerized tomography (CT) scans are used for many different purposes, but they are largely designed to provide quick examinations of the internal parts of a person’s body. According to the Mayo Clinic, a CT scan “combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles around your body and uses computer processing to create cross-section images (slices) of the bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues inside your body.” While CT scans can provide information that is more detailed than what an X-ray can provide, these scans often cannot provide all the information that is necessary to make a mesothelioma diagnosis or to develop a mesothelioma treatment plan.
- PET scan: Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are another form of imaging tests somewhat similar to CT scans, but they may provide information before it would show up in a CT scan. The Mayo Clinic explains that a PET scan “is an imaging test that can help reveal metabolic or biochemical function of your tissues and organs.” It “uses a radioactive drug (Tracer) to show both normal and abnormal metabolic activity.” PET scans are often combined with CT scans as PET-CT scans or with MRI scans as PET-MRIs. Similar to CT scans, PET scans may be useful for identifying potential abnormalities, but they often cannot provide a full picture when it comes to making a mesothelioma diagnosis or establishing a mesothelioma treatment course or plan.
- MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a “medical imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body,” according to the Mayo Clinic. MRIs can create three-dimensional images of a person’s organs that can be evaluated by a doctor. MRIs are noninvasive scans that can provide information about abnormalities inside your body that will need to be biopsied.
- Blood tests: Blood tests are almost always conducted prior to a surgical procedure. These tests will be used to assess your white blood cell count and whether you have an infection that could put you at risk during the surgery, any evidence in your blood of issues that could lead to heart issues or failure during surgery, signs of anemia, and tests to ensure that your blood clots properly to ensure that particular complications will not arise during the surgery.
- EKG: Electrocardiograms (also known more commonly as EKGs or ECGs) are usually performed prior to any surgical procedure to ensure that a patient is fit to undergo anesthesia and to be operated on. The Mayo Clinic explains that EKGs have the ability to “quickly detect heart problems and monitor the heart’s health,” thereby allowing doctors to have a quick and easy lens into a patient’s heart fitness for surgery.
- Pulmonary function tests (PFTs): As Johns Hopkins Medicine explains, these tests are conducted to determine the function of your lungs. There are a wide variety of PFTs can can be done, and they help to determine the amount of air you can take into your lungs, the amount of air you can breathe out of your lungs, and the general capabilities of your lungs. These tests are often conducted prior to surgery in patients who have suspected cases of malignant pleural mesothelioma or in patients who have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma.
Do Not Miss Any Pre-Surgery Appointments
It will be critical to ensure that you attend any and all doctor’s appointments you have prior to your surgery. If you miss an appointment that is designed to assess your fitness to have the surgical procedure, or to provide updated scans to the surgeon performing your procedure, your surgery could be delayed.
Meet with an Anesthesiologist
Just prior to your surgery, you will usually meet with the anesthesiologist to learn about the type of anesthesia you will receive and any steps you should be taking prior to receiving anesthesia.
Follow Your Doctor’s Exercise and Diet Regimen
You should recognize that a major surgery for mesothelioma will be hard on your body, and recovery may be difficult. Accordingly, it will be extremely important to keep up with the exercise plan you have discussed with your doctor and to follow any specific dietary recommendations. To be clear, you should not be on a diet in order to lose weight prior to a surgery unless your doctor has specifically recommended you do so. Rather, you should be exercising lightly and following dietary plans or restrictions in order to keep yourself healthy prior to and after the surgery, giving yourself the best possible chance for a timely recovery.
Generally speaking, light exercise is what you should be doing prior to your surgery. Light exercise may involve walking on short walks, and doing your best to eat foods that will provide you with protein. This is true both before and after your surgical procedure.
If you smoke, you should stop smoking. Smoking cigarettes can harmfully impact surgical procedures, and smoking cigarettes could affect your recovery. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help you quit. You should also stop drinking alcohol and should discuss any alcohol dependence issues with your doctor prior to surgery.
Maintain a Clear List of Your Medications
You should always have a list of your medications, including detailed information about the amount of the drug, when you should be taking it, and any potentially harmful interactions. This is true for both prescription medications and any over-the-counter drugs that you may currently be taking, as well as any nutritional supplements that you are currently on. It is absolutely critical to ensure that your doctor has a full and complete list of all of your current drugs and supplements since these medications ultimately could have an impact on your surgical procedure. When you share the list with your doctors, you should have them go over it with you to acknowledge each medication or supplement you take, and you should ensure that information is recorded properly in your medical records. You should specifically ask your doctor(s) if there are any drugs or supplements you should stop taking prior to or after your surgery due to the possibility or risk of complications.
It is also critical to ensure that your doctor has clear and detailed information about any drug or supplement allergies you have.