Questions to Ask Before Having Cancer Surgery

Questions to Ask Before Having Cancer Surgery

Reviewed by Jasper Clinical Board

Last updated 5/24/21

If your doctor has recommended surgery as part of your treatment plan, you’ll likely have questions about what’s ahead. From clarifying terminology to going through the timeline of upcoming events, this is an important part of the process, helping you and your caregivers to work as a team to further your health. To get you started, here are some questions you might ask. Know that it’s perfectly okay (and often encouraged) to bring a pen and paper to take notes, to record the conversation, or to bring a companion into the meeting to help you listen, take notes, and gather more information. In addition, always feel free to ask for clarification on (and how to spell) terms you don’t understand.
  1. What’s the name of the surgery? Can you provide or refer me to any educational materials to me to take home to read?
  2. Will the surgery require general anesthesia?  If so, how long will I be under general anesthesia and what do you believe are the risks to me?
  3. If the surgery does not require general anesthesia, how will you prevent me from feeling pain and what kind of sensation or discomfort can I expect to feel?
  4. How long do people in my situation typically take to heal from this surgery?
  5. What kinds of wound management, drains, or ostomies [an surgically-created opening designed to allow waste like urine to be drained from the body] will be created by this surgery that I will need to manage?
  6. What symptoms should I call your office about after surgery?
  7. What are serious symptoms that I should go to the emergency room with after surgery?
  8. What does the healing process look like after this surgery and how many visits to your office do people typically make for follow-up?
  9. How long will I have drains or an ostomy in place after the surgery?
  10. What kinds of products, such as bandages and over-the-counter medications, should I have at home to use after this surgery?
  11. Is there a situation in which I may require additional surgery because of this surgery?  
  12. Is there any food I should avoid before or after this surgery?
  13. How much water or other hydrating beverages should I be trying to drink? Are there any beverages I should try to avoid before and after the surgery?
  14. What are the overall risks and benefits to me if I undergo this surgery?  How certain are you that it will improve my quality of life? 
  15. If I find myself in need of mental health care, how can I access that? 
  16. Are there other patients who have been through this surgery who I can talk to?
  17. If I would like to speak to a registered dietician at any point, how would I access that person?
  18. What do you suspect would happen to me/my health if I chose not to undergo this surgery?
  19. What does my caregiver need to know about this treatment? What will my caregiver need to help me with?
  20. What is the plan if my cancer relapses even after going through this surgery and other treatment you suggest?

The content on this website is intended to provide the best possible information for you, but should not be considered—or used as a substitute for—medical advice. If you have questions about your diagnosis or treatment, please contact your health care provider(s). For questions or comments about this content, please email us at