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Surgery is a common treatment for many types of cancer. But it may feel a little scary to hear your doctor say you need a procedure. Cancer surgery is a broad category that can mean biopsy or tumor removal or even removing a part of your body. Everyone’s specific preparation varies widely. But there are a few steps anyone preparing for cancer surgery can take.

1. Learn as Much as You Can

Ask your doctor questions about side effects, hospital stay, how long the surgery lasts, what happens during the surgery, and what’s recovery like. Anything you want to know, ask your care team in advance. You can also research the surgery online, but be careful. Choose reputable sites like and the National Cancer Institute or the American Cancer Society.

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2. Adopt Healthy Habits

The healthier you are going into surgery, the better equipped your body is for recovery. Sometimes you need surgery right away, and other times you can wait days or even weeks. Although you may feel anxious with a longer wait time, take advantage of it to prepare. Eat healthy and exercise to build up your strength. You may want to learn any post-op exercises you may need, so you’re ready to begin them immediately after surgery. For example, lymphedema commonly occurs after breast cancer surgery. Gentle arm exercises your nurse or doctor can show you helps relieve the swelling.

3. Arrange Your Support System

After you ask questions of your care team, you should have a better idea of your recovery period. You may need help at home, help transporting kids to their activities, or help getting groceries. Talk to your family to prepare them for what to expect and how they can help. Also, enlist friends and neighbors in advance so you have a support system ready when you get home.

4. Undergo Recommended Tests

Your doctor may recommend some tests, such as blood tests or imaging exams, before cancer surgery. These tests give your doctor more information about the disease and about your overall health. Your care team wants to make sure you’re healthy enough for the procedure.

5. Follow Doctor’s Orders

As your surgery gets closer, your care team will give you specific instructions. You may need to avoid certain foods, follow a liquid diet for a few days, and stop eating a few hours before surgery. You also may need to stop taking certain medications, like blood thinners or anti-inflammatory pain medications. These medications affect bleeding, which can be dangerous during surgery. This is also the time to drop bad habits that can harm your recovery, like smoking or drinking in excess.

For any other questions you have, stay in contact with your care team. Preparing for cancer surgery isn’t something you have to do alone. Your care team is there to guide you. Your family or friends can also be part of the preparation. Take any time you have in advance to prepare mentally, spiritually, and emotionally as well.

American Cancer Society. Getting Ready for and Recovering from Cancer Surgery.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.