What to Expect When Having Surgery?


If you need to have surgery, you will likely interact with several different types of health professionals.

Before surgery, you will meet with the surgeon to learn about the surgery and give your permission to undergo the procedure. You will also learn about any tests you may need beforehand and how to prepare for the surgery.

During surgery, you will receive some type of medication to block the awareness of pain.

The time it takes to recover after surgery varies depending on the procedure. It is important to follow the recovery instructions provided by your health care team, and ask a friend or family member to help.

The surgical team

When a person with cancer needs surgery, a team of highly trained medical professionals works together to provide the best possible care. A surgeon—often a surgical oncologist—leads this team. However, the type of surgeon will vary based on the type and stage of cancer. For example, urologists and urologic oncologists specialize in treating urologic cancers, including prostate, bladder, and kidney cancers, with surgery. Neurosurgeons treat brain cancers, thoracic surgeons treat lung cancers, and dermatologic surgeons treat some types of skin cancer. In addition to specialists, general surgeons also perform a variety of cancer surgeries.


Additional members of your health care team may include the following medical professionals:

Anesthesiologist. An anesthesiologist is a doctor who cares for patients immediately before, during, and after surgery by giving anesthesia, which is medication that blocks your awareness of pain during surgery and, in some cases, makes you unconscious. An anesthesiologist also monitors your vital signs, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, and identifies and treats any medical problems that may arise during the surgery or recovery period.


Certified registered nurse anesthetist (also called a CRNA). A nurse anesthetist may monitor your vital signs and modify the anesthesia when necessary to ensure your safety and comfort, caring for you under the direction of an anesthesiologist. This type of nurse has received specialized training in anesthesia and has passed a national certification exam.


Operating room nurse (also called an OR nurse or circulating nurse). OR nurses assist the surgeon during surgery.


Recovery room nurses and staff. Recovery room nurses care for and monitor patients who have undergone major or minor surgery.


Other health care professionals. Other specialists who work to meet the full spectrum of your physical and psychological needs during treatment may include pharmacists, social workers, nutritionists or dietitians, and physical therapists.