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Colorectal Cancer: Managing Your Medical Care: Once A Treatment Decision Is Made

If You Are Going To Undergo Surgery

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The Surgeon

 The first step when preparing for surgery is to decide who the surgeon will be.  It doesn’t have to be the person you’ve spoken with so far. Best results come from a surgeon who is a board certified surgical oncologist (a surgeon who specializes in cancer), with a great deal of recent experience in the type of operation you have agreed to. To learn more about choosing a surgeon, see How To Choose A Surgeon.

If no specialist is available in your area, consider traveling to a nationally certified comprehensive cancer center. (To find one, click here offsite link.)  At least, try to find a general surgeon who performs colon or rectal surgery often.


  • Prepare for your meeting with the surgeon as you would with any specialist:
  • Make sure that copies of your medical records are received by the doctor before the appointment. Call the office a few days before the scheduled meeting to be sure the records have arrived. If they haven’t, you’ll have time to follow up. (Offering to pick up records helps push people to get things done in a timely manner).
  • Make notes of questions and concerns before the meeting. Survivorship A to Z provides a Prioritizer to help you keep track of questions and concerns, we well as a Symptoms diary to keep track of Symptoms.
  • To learn more, see: How To Prepare For A Meeting With A Doctor 
  • Even though surgery may seem indicated, consider meeting with at least one radiation oncologist and/or at least one medical oncologist (specialist in chemotherapy) to fully understand your treatment options.

The Hospital Or Other Facility

If the surgery will be performed on an outpatient basis:

  • Ask about the facility’s emergency procedures in case you need additional support during a procedure. For example, it is advisable that other doctors qualified in emergencies and in other specialties are available in case something goes wrong and they are needed.
  • You will need someone to take you home after a procedure.

If you will stay in a hospital at least overnight

  • Learn what you need to know about how to maximize your time in a hospital and to minimize risk of infection. Hospital related infections can be dangerous. Over 100,000 people a year die from them.
  • One way to reduce risk of infection, and to maximize your stay, is to have a family member or friend stay with you as much as possible to act as a patient advocate. See “To Learn More.”

The Timing Of The Surgery

Set a time and date that works for both you and the surgeon. In-hospital surgeries should be scheduled for early in the morning. Benefits of an early surgery include:

  •  Doctors are fresh when they start their day.
  • Schedules are less likely to be backed up so there is less chance you’ll have to wait once you get to the facility.
  • If you have to stop eating the night before, you don’t have to be hungry in the morning for longer than necessary.

Surgeries should also be scheduled for early in the week, and not just before a holiday or weekend. Hospitals tend to have limited staffing on weekends and holidays. If surgery takes place early in the week, you have the rest of the week at full staffing if needed.

If you work:

  • Consider planning surgery for vacation time or during business slow times. 
  • If you schedule outpatient procedures for Friday afternoons, you have the weekend to recover with minimal loss of work. 

Standard advice is that elective surgery should not be scheduled for the end of June or beginning of July when residents just start practicing medicine.

NOTE:  If you have appointments with different doctors and/or tests coming up, avoid constant interruptions in your life by scheduling them for the same day or only setting doctor appointments for the same day every week.  The most important thing is to have the surgery in a timely manner to avoid possible complications from delays such as a bowel blockage.

Get Ready For Surgery

Find out what medical preparation to expect before surgery and what you should or should not do to maximize chances of success. For example:

  • There may be medications, supplements, herbs and/or vitamins that the doctor will want you to discontinue for a period prior to surgery, such as aspirin or blood thinners. (Before discontinuing any drug etc. prescribed by another doctor, check with that doctor).
  • If you use recreational drugs, let your doctor know. They may affect surgery.
  • If you smoke, the doctor may want you to stop for a number of days before surgery. Stopping can help improve the body’s response to treatment and lessen complications and side effects. If you quit permanently, stopping can decrease the risk of recurrence and enhance survival. (For information about quitting smoking, click here.
  • Schedule a dental exam. Prior to surgery is a good time to take care of any oral problems. Mounting evidence indicates that poor oral care can worsen serious medical problems. Infections can impact surgical outcomes.
  • Discuss pain medication for after surgery with your surgeon or ask him or her if you can speak with a pain specialist.
    • Proper pain medication helps speed recovery and shortens the amount of time patients have to spend in the hospital.
    • Pain medication used as prescribed for pain is not addictive.
    • Fill pain prescriptions now so there won't be unnecessary pain after the surgery until the prescription is filled. 
  • Identify family members and/or friends to act as patient advocates for you while you are in the hospital. Having someone with you helps reduce risk of infection, reduce medical errors, and that you get what you need when you need it. To learn how to identify a good patient advocate, and topics, to discuss, click here.
  • Put together items that you can take to the hospital that will make your stay in the hospital more comfortable. For instance:
    • Framed photos of loved ones or happy memories.
    • Earplugs and a sleeping mask so your rest is not disturbed by hospital noise,  light,  or noisy roommates.
    • A favorite pillow that is marked so it not confused with hospital pillows.
    • A pad and pens with which you or a patient advocate can make notes about services provided. This helps later when checking your hospital bill. A very high percentage of hospital bills are wrong. It is advisable to check them – even if an insurance company pays.  (For information about how to check hospital bills, click here.) 
    • Loose clothes to wear home.
  • Think about who will drive you home, particularly if a procedure will be performed on an out patient basis.
  • Review what to expect during the recovery from the operation. For a reminder, click here
  • Learn about what to expect when you get home after surgery and think about what your needs will be. For instance:
    • Minimize the need for shopping and cooking by stocking your freezer with ready-to-heat foods.
    • Put a family member or friend in charge of setting a schedule for people to help, at least for the first few days after getting home – or arrange for home health care. (See “To Learn More.”)
    • Do all the predictable chores before going into the hospital – for instance paying bills. Credit is important after a diagnosis and you should do everything you can to protect it – and even improve it. (See “To Learn More.”  for more about why, and how)

NOTE: If you have children, and haven’t told them about your condition and/or treatment, now is the time to do so in an age appropriate manner. For more information, click here.

Paying For Surgery

Check your health insurance policy to:

  • Determine if prior approval is needed for the surgery. If so, ask your doctor's office if it will handle getting the approval for you. If there is a problem, appeal. The higher you appeal a decision, the more likelihood of success. To learn about appeals, see the document in “To Learn More.”
  • Find out how much, if at all, you will have to pay out of your own pocket.

If you are not insured, you may be able to obtain surgery for low cost. See the document in "To Learn More."

During And After Treatment

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