Prostate Cancer: What to Do Before Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on May 12, 2022
5 min read

If you plan to get surgery for your prostate cancer, there are a few things you can do to get ready ahead of time. As with any surgery, your well-being and safety are important. If you prepare for surgery, you’ll be more likely to have a successful outcome.

Always ask your doctor about the specific steps you should take before your surgery. They may suggest:

Diet changes. You’ll need to drink a lot of fluids before surgery. Clear liquids are usually the best options. Your doctor will give you a certain time to stop drinking and eating before surgery. This depends on the time of your operation, but you’ll usually stop around midnight.

It’s also important to follow a healthy, balanced diet before your surgery. Talk with a nutritionist before surgery if you want to make better food choices.

After surgery, you should stick to a healthy nutrition plan. The same foods that help prevent prostate cancer can help keep it from returning. Stick to meals full of:

  • Plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)
  • Lean protein
  • Low-fat dairy

Stay away from heavily processed items or red meats.

Bowel preparation. This will help clean out your intestines and lower your risk of infection. The day before your surgery, your doctor may recommend that you drink a bottle of magnesium citrate in the morning. You can get this at most pharmacies. They may also ask you to take one enema in the evening. Ask your doctor before you do either of these.

Set up your living space. When you return home from surgery, you’ll want to rest. Make sure you’ve prepared your home so that you can come back to a clean, safe environment. Before your operation, tidy any clutter and remove any obstacles from your walking path. Clear loose cords, rugs, wires, or other tripping hazards. Keep essentials within reach, and have assistive devices (like a grabber) available.

Buy helpful aids/tools. Before your prostate operation, you should get a few items to help with your comfort post-surgery. To ease recovery, you should get:

  • A bucket to hold your catheter (the tubing used to help you pee while your bladder heals)
  • A toilet seat cushion to help you sit while going to the bathroom
  • Loose undergarments
  • Stool softener
  • Disposable bed pads
  • An antibiotic ointment that your doctor recommends post-surgery

Certain medications or supplements could cause issues during surgery. It’s important to stop these, usually 7 days before surgery. Ask your doctor about any medicines you should avoid. Always make sure that they know about all the drugs you take, even if they’re natural supplements. In most cases, you should stop taking:

Certain pain medications. Don’t take ibuprofen or any similar nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It’s also important to stay away from aspirin because it puts you at a higher risk for harmful bleeding during surgery.

Herbal supplements. You should stop taking most herbal supplements before surgery. Ask your care team about which ones may be OK to continue to take. Specifically, you should avoid:

  • St. John's wort
  • Kava kava
  • Licorice
  • Pennyroyal
  • Germander
  • Chaparral
  • Borage
  • Coltsfoot
  • Comfrey
  • Life root
  • Sassafras
  • Aristolochia fangchi

These things can be harmful to your health before surgery.

You also need to stop taking any supplements that could act as blood thinners. These things could lead to bleeding during surgery. They include:

  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Garlic
  • Ginseng
  • Dong quai
  • Willow
  • Red clover

Vitamin E. This vitamin can also lead to an increased risk of bleeding. If you take vitamin E as a supplement, you should stop before surgery.

Warfarin. Call the doctor that prescribed you this medication. Ask them if it’s OK if you stop your medication before your surgery. It’s usually a good idea to stay away from these a week before prostate surgery. But if your doctor says that you can’t stop taking these drugs, tell your prostate cancer surgery team.

If you accidentally do take any of these medications, tell your doctor as soon as possible.

Direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs). If you are taking this type of medication, which is a safer and more effective alternative to warfarin, your doctor may want you to skip one or two doses before surgery. In rare cases with DOACs, your health care team may have to use medication to stop heavy bleeding.

Insulin and other diabetic medications. If you are a diabetic, check with your doctor about taking insulin and other diabetes medicine. They will give you instructions about how to take them. It may not be the same as how you usually take them. For example, your doctor may want you to hold or only take half of your usual insulin dosage the night before surgery.

Alcohol. It’s also very important that you avoid all alcoholic beverages 48 hours before your surgery and 48 hours after surgery. Alcohol can harm your surgery and also mess with the anesthesia you take before your operation. If you are a daily drinker, you should also let your doctor know as you may be at risk for withdrawal.

Smoking. Smoking can cause you to have breathing problems during surgery. Stop smoking for a few days before surgery. You can ask your doctor for help if you have trouble.

Sleep apnea. If you have a breathing disorder called sleep apnea, you should also let your doctor know. If you have a breathing device such as a CPAP machine, you should also bring it on the day of your surgery.

Before you have any operation, you may feel overwhelmed. To lessen this feeling, make a checklist of things to remember before the day of your surgery. Some things to remember include:

Personal items. Your comfort is important before, during, and after surgery. Make sure you bring any care items that will help you stay at ease. This might include glasses or contact lenses (and their cases), false teeth, or a phone charger. Set these things aside in a bag before the day of surgery.

Medications. Bring a bag with all the medications you currently take. Make sure that you bring the labeled containers so that your doctor knows the amount you’re on.

Comfortable clothes. Wear a loose-fitting outfit. Something comfortable, like sweatpants, is always a good option to wear to surgery. Don’t wear jewelry or any other metal objects. For your comfort, it’s a good idea to bring a pair of underwear that’s one to two sizes bigger than what you normally wear. This will give you extra room after surgery.

After your operation, your doctors will check up on your pain levels. They’ll give you medication to address any discomfort you have. You might notice:

  • Gas pain (This tends to happen after a laparoscopic prostatectomy, which is when your doctor makes many small incisions to take out your prostate.)
  • Stomach pain from your incisions
  • Pain in your back and shoulders
  • Pressure in your rectum. This might feel like you need to go to the bathroom because your prostate gland is just above your rectum. This feeling will go away after some time.
  • Bladder spasms and feeling like you have to pee a lot
  • Bruising from your surgery
  • Bloating
  • Constipation