Managing Cancer Surgery Treatment

Before Surgery

Before cancer surgery, a nurse may call you to tell you how to prepare. He or she may tell you about tests and exams you need to have before the surgery.

Common tests that you may need, if you have not had them lately, are:

  • Blood tests.
  • Chest x-ray.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG).

You may not be able to eat or drink for a certain period of time before the surgery. It is important to follow the instructions about eating and drinking. If you don’t, your surgery may need to be rescheduled.

You may also be asked to have supplies on hand for taking care of your wounds after surgery. Supplies might include antiseptic ointment and bandages.

During Surgery

Once you are under anesthesia, the surgeon removes the cancer, usually along with some healthy tissue around it. Removing this healthy tissue helps improve the chances that all the cancer has been removed. Sometimes, the surgeon might also remove lymph nodes or other tissues near the tumor. These tissues will be checked under a microscope to see if the cancer has spread. Knowing if the nearby tissue contains cancer will help your doctors suggest the best treatment plan for you after surgery.

After Surgery

Once you are ready to go home after surgery, the nurse will tell you how to take care of yourself. He or she will explain:

  • How to control pain.
  • Activities you should and should not do.
  • How to take care of your wound.
  • How to spot signs of infection and steps to take if you do.
  • When you can return to work.

You will have at least one more visit with the surgeon a week or two after you go home. For more complex surgeries, you may need to see the surgeon more often. You may have stitches removed, and the surgeon will check to make sure you are healing as you should.

Working After Surgery

You will need to take time off from work to have and recover from surgery. You may need only one day or many weeks.

How long you need to recover depends on many factors, such as:

  • The type of anesthesia you have. If you have local or regional anesthesia, you will probably return to work more quickly than if you have general anesthesia.
  • The type of surgery you have, and how extensive it is.
  • The type of work you do. If you have an active job, you may need to take off more time than if you sit at a desk. If your job allows, you may want to see if you can work at home, or start back part time, to help you ease back into a full work day.

Ask your doctor how long you will need to recover from your surgery. If you expect a longer recovery time, talk with your employer to find out if you can take medical leave. Check to make sure your health insurance will cover costs if you are on medical leave and not working for a time.

Risks and Possible Side Effects

Risk is a part of any surgery. Though technology has made surgery a safe and reliable treatment option, there is always the risk of possible problems and side effects. In many cases, however, the positive effects of surgery outweigh the risks. This is one of the reasons why learning about your cancer and its treatment is important. The more you know about surgery for cancer, the more informed your choices will be. Talk about possible complications with your cancer care team before undergoing treatment.

Problems that may happen during or after surgery may include:

  • Damage to organs in the body.
  • Blood loss or clots.
  • Adverse reactions to medicine.
  • Pain or discomfort.
  • Infection.
  • Other illnesses, such as pneumonia.

This content was provided by the National Cancer Institute. For more information, please visit their website.