Cancer surgery

Surgery is a procedure to remove the cancer from your body. The right surgery for you depends on the location and size of your tumor and your overall health. If surgery is recommended as part of your treatment plan, your cancer care team will get all of your questions answered at each step of the way.

Preparing for surgery

The following is information on how to prepare for your surgery and what to expect for your recovery.

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Insurance coverage

Health care benefits change and differ from plan to plan and provider to provider. It is important for you to understand your health care benefits before your surgery. Now is a good time to call your insurance provider and find out exactly what is and is not covered under your plan, and how much you have to pay yourself.

provider taking health history during cancer exam

Health history and physical exam

Your primary care provider should do a health history and physical exam (pre-surgery physical) before your surgery. This exam needs to be done within 30 days before your surgery. It is recommended to have the exam done 14 to 30 days before surgery.

During the exam, your primary care provider will:

  • evaluate your current health status
  • review and perform any tests needed before surgery
  • make sure you are ready for surgery

If you take any medicines, make sure your primary care provider gives you instructions for the following:

  • taking your medicines the morning of surgery
  • stopping any prescription medicines before your surgery
  • stopping any over-the-counter medicines before your surgery, including herbal medicines


If you have diabetes, it is important to have good blood glucose levels before and after surgery. This will help you heal better after surgery and lower your risk of infection. Talk with your health care provider who manages your diabetes about having good blood glucose levels before your surgery.

Quit tobacco for you surgery

If you are currently using tobacco products, talk to your health care team about resources to help you quit before your surgery. Visit quitting tobacco for more information and resources.

advance care planning as a team

Advanced care planning – planning for your future health care

Advance care planning is the process of giving information to others about your health care choices in case illness or injury prevents you from telling them yourself. Talk with members of your care circle (family, friends or others close to you) about your health care choices. This is a time for you to share:

  • what kind of care and treatment you do or do not want
  • your wishes, goals and values and how they relate to your health care choices for the future

You can put your health care choices in writing by creating a health care directive. Members of your care circle and your health care providers will use this document to interpret and understand your wishes, goals and values for your future health care needs.

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How to get started with advanced care planning

Allina Health offers three ways to help you get started:

patient in hospital gown meditating

Preparing your mind and body for surgery

Studies have shown that if your mind and body are ready for surgery you may sleep better and have less anxiety and pain. Your hospital stay may also be shorter.

There are some skills you can learn to help you to prepare your mind and body for your surgery. These skills include:

  • meditation and relaxation techniques
  • breathing techniques
  • guided imagery and biofeedback
  • self-care practices
  • pain management techniques.

Talk with a member of your health care team if you would like to learn more about these skills.

female applying a cold compress to side of neck as one way to manage pain after cancer surgery

After surgery

Recovery after your hospital stay

After your surgery, there is a variety of things you need to know for your safety, recovery and comfort. Before you go home, you will receive instructions on your diet, medicines, activity level, follow-up appointment, and signs and symptoms to watch for. If you have any questions, ask your surgeon or nurse. They want your recovery to be as smooth as possible.

Managing pain

Having no pain while in the hospital is not realistic, but pain can be controlled. Your health care team will work closely with you to help manage your pain during your hospital stay and when you return home.

Managing your pain is more than taking prescription (opioid) pain medicine. There are many different types of treatments for pain including:

  • heat or cold (ice packs)
  • integrative therapies: music, acupuncture, acupressure, relaxation techniques, massage therapy, aromatherapy
  • psychological therapies
  • nerve blocks

Please call your surgeon’s office if you have any concerns about managing your pain when you return home. Your cancer care team is committed to helping you get well and manage your pain.


Common surgery questions and answers

Surgery is used to treat many types of cancer. It works best for cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body. Surgery is not used to treat leukemia (a type of blood cancer).

The most common use of surgery is to remove the cancer from your body. It can also be used to help relieve symptoms. For example, a tumor may be removed to help ease pain or pressure.

Please bring the following to the hospital.

  • a current list of your medicines (Include all prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, herbal or natural products.)
  • a copy of your health care directive (if you have one)
  • driver’s license or photo ID
  • your insurance information (insurance card, Medicare card)
  • glasses (if you wear them) and storage container (If you wear contacts, please wear your glasses and leave your contacts at home.)
  • hearing aids (if you wear them), storage container and extra batteries
  • dentures (if you wear them)
  • clothing you will wear home, including a comfortable shirt and pants, underwear, socks and shoes
  • phone numbers of family and friends

For your comfort, you may also choose to bring the following:

  • reading materials (All rooms have a television and phone.)
  • personal care items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, denture cleaner, comb, skin care products, deodorant, make-up and shaving kit

Please do not bring any of the following:

  • valuables
  • medicines (pills, inhalers)
  • large amounts of money
  • jewelry (wedding ring)

During surgery, the cancer and some healthy tissues (and possibly lymph nodes) around it are removed. Removing healthy tissue allows your surgeon to see if all of the cancer has been removed and decide if more treatment is needed. In some cases, surgery may be the only treatment you need. However, most often, you will also need to have other treatments such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Lymphedema is the swelling of body tissue that can be caused by tissue damage or lymph node removal. Some people without cancer get lymphedema but the main cause in the U.S. is cancer or cancer treatment, such as surgery, radiation or lymph node removal.

I was in and out of the surgery department at Mercy hospital over a dozen times... Some very minor procedures and some unbelievably high risk, major surgeries. My care before, during and after all of them has always been excellent!! Very thorough and careful. The mindfulness expressed towards me as a patient was incredible.

Rehab support for surgery

It does not matter where you are in your care, members of your cancer rehabilitation care team will meet and work with you based on your specific goals and needs.

Rehabilitation benefits include:

  • Before treatment: build your overall strength and endurance.
  • During treatment: maintain mobility and reduce your pain and discomfort.
  • After treatment: regain function, decrease fatigue and build strength.

Your treatment may include connecting you to resources for concerns with fitness and wellness, life and work activities, food, stress and anxiety. Together, you and your cancer rehabilitation care team will make a safe and appropriate therapy plan. 

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Find info and support that works for you

We work to address the needs of the Twin Cities Metro and surrounding areas through our many hospitals and cancer centers. Browse these offerings and discover why we’re the right partner for your care.
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Know what to expect

A cancer diagnosis can change your life in an instant. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, confused or anxious about what to do next. That’s why we make it easy to find the information and resources you need at this difficult time.