Preparing for Cancer Surgery

Depending on the type and stage of cancer, surgery is common and often the first form of cancer treatment. The goal is usually to entirely remove the cancer itself. Surgery may be all that is required to cure the disease if cancer is diagnosed in its early stages and has not spread to other parts of the body. Often, however, surgery is part of a treatment plan that may also include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and/or biological therapy.

It is also common in many types of cancer surgery to remove some of the lymph nodes in the area of the tumor. Lymph nodes are tiny glands located throughout the body that act as filters to help prevent the spread of infection. By examining tissue from these nodes, pathologists can help determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Treating Cancer With Surgery

Cancer surgeons at Swedish are part of a skilled team that includes anesthesiologists, surgical nurses and technicians. As the largest cancer program in the Pacific Northwest, the Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI) offers the latest surgical tools, technology and procedures available, including:

  • Breast surgery
  • Colorectal surgery
  • Diagnosing and staging cancer
  • Gynecologic oncology & pelvic surgery
  • Head & neck surgery 
  • Reconstructive surgery
  • Risk assessment & preventive procedures
  • Thoracic surgery & pulmonologist

What to Expect

It is natural to have many concerns and questions about "major surgery". We feel that the more you know about the process, the less you will worry about the steps necessary to return you to a state of good health. The following are some general guidelines which we hope will help you understand the steps in this process.

Preparing for your surgery & hospital stay:

  • If you are having surgery at Swedish, the staff in your surgeon’s office will give you a packet of forms and information that tell you what you need to know about admission to the hospital. You will be scheduled for a pre-admission visit at the hospital, where your doctor and registered nurse will walk you through your upcoming surgery, answer your questions about being admitted to the hospital, address any special needs or concerns you may have, and go over medications with you. 
  • The nurse will talk to you about what your needs might be after surgery, from getting some in-home help if you live alone to ordering special equipment for greater mobility. They will help you take care of any pre-surgical lab work or tests your doctor may have ordered, and go over any potential side-effects to look out for. 
  • Insurance questions can also be answered, either in the preadmission office or by the staff at patient registration.
  • Some nutritional and herbal supplements can increase side effects or prevent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery from working as planned. If you wish to use supplements during treatment, including a multiple vitamin, discuss this with your doctor’s office before starting.
  • On the day of your surgery, you will meet with your anesthesiologist, who will review your medical record, clarify any questions about your medical history, and perform a physical evaluation. You will have an opportunity to express your preferences, discuss the plan for your care, and ask any questions you have about your anesthesia.
  • After surgery, in the recovery room, you will be cared for by specially trained nurses, who will respond immediately to your needs regarding pain or nausea.
  • Before you leave the hospital, you will be given detailed discharge instructions. If questions come up once you are home, call your doctor’s office. When you are discharged, your doctor may order medications for you. You may have these medications filled at one of Swedish’s pharmacies or the pharmacy of your choice.