Many surgeons recommend that the two steps are carried out separately but under the same anaesthetic. For example, patients with suspected breast cancer are often asked to agree to be put to sleep, following which the surgeon takes a sample of the suspicious area. This is rapidly examined under the microscope by a process called frozen section. Once the diagnosis is made, the surgeon immediately proceeds to carry out whatever operation he or she considers best.

It is neither necessary nor best for you to do things this way. In the case of breast lumps, the diagnosis can be made pre-operatively by a needle biopsy. With most types of cancer it is possible to make the diagnosis and carry out any surgical treatment in two completely separate steps. This has two major advantages. Firstly, it allows time for the biopsy to be fully processed and examined. The rapid frozen section method used during operations is fairly accurate. However, it is not as reliable as the usual process, which takes several days. The pathologist can usually tell whether or not is cancer but it less likely to tell the exact type of cancer on frozen section. The type of cancer is often very important in determining the best type of treatment. The other big advantage making the diagnosis separately is that this gives you the opportunity to decide on the best possible treatment knowing all the important facts.

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