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How to Prepare For Lung Cancer Surgery

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Updated March 31, 2014

How can you prepare for lung cancer surgery? If you and your health care team decide on surgery as a treatment for your lung cancer, preparing ahead can ease some of the anxiety, and may help improve your outcome as well. To make sure your surgery is a successful as possible, what should you expect and what questions should you ask?

What Tests/Visits Will I Have?

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 pre-operative 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)
  • Complete physical exam
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)

A Few Other Things to Consider

  • A second opinion – Do not be afraid to ask how many cases of lung cancer like yours that your surgeon has operated on – and compare. Just as carpenters or plumbers vary with their experience doing different procedures, so do physicians.
  • Donating Blood – If there is enough time, some people choose to donate their own blood before surgery in case they should need a transfusion.
  • 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.

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 with your ability to heal afterward.
  • Talk with your health care 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?
  • Talk to your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation and breathing exercises. Research 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.

Questions to Ask

  • 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?

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.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. Understanding Cancer Surgery: A Guide for Patients and Families. Accessed 03/31/14. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/surgery/surgery-treatment-toc

Colice, G. et al. Physiologic evaluation of the patient with lung cancer being considered for resectional surgery: ACCP evidenced-based clinical practice guidelines (2nd edition). Chest. 2007. 132(3 Suppl):161S-77S.

Liu, W. et al. Breathing exercises improve post-operative pulmonary function and quality of life in patients with lung cancer: A meta-analysis. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. 2012. 5(4):1194-1200.

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