How to Prepare for Lung Cancer Surgery

Testing and questions to ask

Older man talks to his doctor

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Preparing for lung cancer surgery is important. If you and your healthcare team decide on surgery as a treatment for your lung cancer, taking time to understand what will happen in the next days, and having a list of questions to ask your doctor can go a long way in reducing some of the anxiety and ensuring your surgery is as successful as possible. While your healthcare team will guide you through many of the steps, there are many things you can do yourself to prepare ahead of time.

Tests Before Surgery

Before having surgery, your physician will want to make sure you are as healthy as possible. Depending on the type of surgery you will be having and your general medical condition, your doctor may recommend tests in addition to those listed.

Medical history

Your physician will first want to review your complete medical history. If you have had surgery in the past, it is important to share any complications you had, such as breathing problems or blood clots following surgery. He or she will also ask about the medical condition of your family members, including any problems anyone has had with anesthesia.

Medication History

It is important to bring a list of all of your medications, and any over-the-counter or herbal supplements you are taking to your preoperative visit. Some medications and supplements can increase the risk of bleeding, prolong the effects of anesthesia, or raise blood pressure during surgery. Your doctor will recommend stopping these for a period of time (sometimes several weeks) before surgery. A few of these include:

  • Aspirin
  • Blood thinners (such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • Vitamins (vitamin E)
  • Herbal preparations (such as those containing kava, omega-3 fatty acids, ginseng, ginkgo, valerian and several others)

Physical Exam

Your surgeon may ask you to have a physical exam performed by your primary care physician. If this is the case, make sure that your primary care physician has recommendations from the surgeon on any specific tests that should be done.

Blood Tests

At a minimum, most surgeons will want you to have a CBC and general chemistry panel done prior to surgery. More tests may be recommended based on any medical conditions you currently have and your doctors preference.

Lung Tests

Pulmonary function tests may be recommended prior to surgery to determine how well you will tolerate surgery, and sometimes to decide which type of lung cancer surgery is the best option.

Heart Tests

Depending on your age and general health, and electrocardiogram (EKG) is often done. Further cardiac testing may be recommended for those who have or at risk for heart disease.

Considerations Before Surgery

Even if you've already scheduled your surgery, there are a few things you should consider.

Second Opinion

Getting a second opinion with lung cancer can be very important. Studies have found that people who have lung cancer surgery performed at centers that perform greater numbers of these surgeries have better outcomes. Many people are hesitant to travel far from home for surgery, but doing so can sometimes ensure you will have a better recovery after the surgery.

Advance Directives

Most of the time lung cancer surgery goes smoothly, and you will be able to make your own decisions for care when you awaken. Occasionally, complications arise and you will need others to make those decisions for you.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

If you will not be having surgery immediately, talk to your surgeon about pulmonary rehabilitation. Studies have shown that people who have this therapy prior to surgery have much fewer complications.

Research also suggests that those people who do breathing exercises before or after surgery have better lung function and a better quality of life following surgery than those who don't do these exercises.

Certainly, this needs to be weighed against the urgency of surgery, and many people will not have time for therapy before their surgery.

Donating Blood

If there is enough time, some people choose to donate their own blood before surgery in case they should need a transfusion.

What Happens on the Day of Surgery?

Starting the night before surgery, you will be advised not to eat or drink anything until after your surgery. Ask your doctor about any medications you usually take in the morning, and if you should take them the morning of surgery. You should avoid wearing any make-up, nail polish, contact lenses, or dentures. Your surgeon, as well as your anesthesiologist, will talk to you prior to surgery and have you sign a consent form. The surgical staff will let your family know where they can wait so they can be updated on how your surgery is going and when it is finished. Make sure to bring your insurance information to the hospital, but it is best to leave valuables at home or with a family member.

What Can I Do to Make Surgery Most Successful?

Preparing ahead of time not only maximizes your opportunity for a successful procedure but also can fill some of those agonizing moments as you wait.

  • If you smoke, quit – Quitting smoking for any period of time before surgery, can make a difference in your ability to heal afterward.
  • Talk with your healthcare team about exercise after surgery. Even moderate amounts of exercise after surgery can speed your recovery.
  • Lay out a plan ahead of time for getting help when you return home. Who can help you with chores? Who can be available if you are afraid of being alone? Can someone arrange to have friends bring a meal each night?

Questions to Ask

It's often very helpful to have a list of questions to ask your surgeon. You may wish to look at these and then add your own.

  • What type of lung cancer surgery will I have? Why is this type being done instead of another?
  • What type of anesthesia will I be given?
  • How many of these procedures have you done?
  • What complications might I expect, and what signs should I watch for?
  • What will my scar look like?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • What activities will I be able to do upon returning home? Will I need help around the home? If I am not able to manage myself at home, what options are available for transitional care?
  • When can I return to work?
  • Who should I call if I experience any problems after returning home?
  • What medications will I be given to control my pain in the hospital, and upon returning home?
  • What is my chance of recurrence after surgery? Is there any way to lower my chance of having a recurrence?
  • How often will I be monitored after surgery?
  • What can I expect over the long run - such as a year or five years after the surgery?

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to having surgery, we often hear stories about others that have gone through a similar situation. With lung cancer surgery, support from others that have experienced the same thing can be a great comfort. But keep in mind that there are several different types of procedures and your own experience may be very different, depending upon the type of lung cancer surgery you have, the stage of your lung cancer, and your general health.

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Article Sources

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  1. Steffens D, Beckenkamp PR, Hancock M, Solomon M, Young J. Preoperative Exercise Halves the Postoperative Complication Rate in Patients with Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review of the Effect of Exercise on Complications, Length of Stay and Quality of Life in Patients with CancerBritish Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018. 52(5):344. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-098032


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