COVID-19 and Cancer-Directed Surgery

Elective surgeries were largely postponed or stopped entirely as the COVID-19 pandemic bore down on us. But as incidence and infection rates begin to taper off, the focus in many hospitals and surgery centers is turning to how they will “ramp up” to prepare for elective surgeries again. Understanding the current protocols, e.g., beds, testing, operating rooms (ORs) and potential constraints, e.g., workforce, supply chain, while keeping a watchful eye on subsequent waves of COVID-19 continue to be important.  

For cancer patients it is equally important that they know how to address their specific concerns or questions about their safety while entering the hospital and undergoing surgery. Communication is a shared responsibility between the surgeon and patient. No questions or concerns should be considered “off limits” during these discussions. In fact, the questions patients ask, which have always been important, are now more meaningful than ever during the pandemic.

The American College of Surgeons has developed a Toolkit, Preparing to Have Surgery During the Time of COVID-19, for use by surgeons and patients alike.

The Surgeon’s Toolkit is a comprehensive resource containing press release copy, social media templates and images, a video script, and other informational materials. The Toolkit may be shared with members of the Cancer Committee, Breast Program Leadership Committee (BPLC), all other surgeons, residents, advanced nurse practitioners, and navigators.

The Patient’s Toolkit includes some information on how the patient might open a discussion with their surgeon and a worksheet that that can be completed during the visit. Cancer Centers might consider providing this guide to their patients prior to their consultation with a surgeon.

Questions a patient might ask include:

  • What can I expect when I arrive for my appointment?
  • What security measures or steps will be taken when I arrive for check-in?
  • When I arrive, do I come inside, or should I wait in my car to be called?
  • Will my insurance coverage or personal financial obligations be taken care of before I arrive, or do I need to meet with someone in person?
  • Do I need to wear a mask? Will the physicians and staff at the center be wearing masks?
  • Will I be waiting for my procedure in a room with other patients?
  • What are the facilities policies and procedures for cleaning and sanitizing the operating room or patient waiting areas?
  • Do I need to be tested, or re-tested, for COVID-19 prior to my procedure?
  • Have the surgeons and staff at the facility been tested for COVID-19 or have they been vaccinated?
  • Will patients receiving treatment for COVID-19 in the facility be in the same patient care areas or waiting rooms where I will be?
  • Do I need to spend the night in the hospital? If so, what is being done to ensure I am not exposed to the virus while I am there?
  • Can I bring a family member or friend to the hospital with me? And, if I can bring someone, what precautions should they take and where will they be able to wait while I am having my procedure?
  • How will my family or friends be updated about my condition?
  • Instead of returning to the facility for a follow-up visit, can a video or home health visit be arranged?


Whatever their concerns, cancer patients must understand that their surgeon and healthcare team want to answer all their questions prior to the surgery. A patient’s well being and recovery from surgery will be greatly improved with stress and worry are eliminated.    

To download a free Toolkit, click here.

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