Understanding Cancer Surgery: A Guide for Patients and Families

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Going home after cancer surgery

Once you are eating and walking, you may start hearing about plans for going home. Of course, this will depend on other factors too, such as the results of the surgery and tests done afterward. Your doctor will want to make sure you’re well enough to be home.

Before leaving, be sure that you understand these things:

  • How you will care for your wound (and drains) at home
  • What to look for that might need attention right away
  • What your activity limits are (driving, working, lifting, etc.)
  • Other restrictions (diet, those related to pain medicine, etc.)
  • What medicines to take and how often to take them, including pain medicines
  • Who to call with questions or problems that may come up (Make sure you know what to do if you have problems after hours or on the weekend.)
  • Whether you should be doing anything in terms of rehabilitation (exercises or physical therapy)
  • When you need to see the doctor again

You may need help at home for a while after surgery. If family members or friends are unable to do all that’s needed, your health care team may be able to arrange to have a nurse or nurse’s aide visit you at home for a short while.

Other parts of recovery may take longer. Wounds heal at different rates in different people. Some operations, like a breast removal (mastectomy [mas-tek-tuh-me]), may lead to permanent changes in your body. Others, such as a having an arm or leg removed (limb amputation) or an opening in your belly connected to the end of your intestine (an ostomy [os-tuh-me]) might affect how your body works, and you may need to learn new ways of doing things.

Fully understanding the result of the operation before it’s done is an important part of helping you adjust to the changes that have been made to your body. Be sure that all of your questions are answered up front. Get as specific as you need to with your questions, and make sure your health care team gives specific answers that you can understand.


Last Medical Review: 08/19/2013
Last Revised: 08/19/2013