What happens before surgery?

Your operation will be planned carefully. Before surgery, you will have a clinic appointment to check your general health and make sure you are fit enough to have the operation. You will have blood tests and may have a chest x-ray or a test to check your heart.

You may see the surgeon and anaesthetist who will be looking after you. This is a good time to ask any questions you have about the operation and to make sure you understand what is involved. You will need to sign a consent form agreeing to have the operation.

You will be asked not to eat or drink anything for a few hours before the operation. On the day of surgery, the nurses will help you get ready. You may need to have a shower or bath and to shave your body hair in the area being operated on. The nurse may give you a pair of compression stockings to wear during and after the surgery. This is to help prevent blood clots in your legs.

Planning your operation

Your operation will be carefully planned. You can read more specific information in the treating section of the cancer type you have.

Your surgeon and anaesthetist are responsible for your well-being during and after your surgery. They must be sure that you are fit enough to have the operation. You will probably have a hospital appointment before your operation to have some tests. This is known as a pre-assessment clinic.

Pre-assessment clinic

At a pre-assessment clinic, you will usually be seen by a nurse and sometimes by an anaesthetist. The nurse will ask you about your medical history and if you have any allergies. They will check your blood pressure, pulse, height and weight. It is important that you bring any medicines you are taking, including herbal medicines or supplements.

You may have some tests done, which usually include the following:

  • blood tests
  • a chest x-ray to check how well your lungs are working
  • an ECG (electrocardiogram), to check the rhythm and rate of the heart. It is painless and usually takes 5–10 minutes.

Some people may have other tests as well. Don’t worry if you have more tests than someone else. This might be because of the type of operation you are having or because you have other health conditions.

If you are not able to have a general anaesthetic, you may still be able to have surgery. Some operations can be done under local anaesthetic or regional anaesthetic (such as an epidural or spinal anaesthetic). With these types of anaesthetic, you will be awake during the operation but won’t feel any pain.

It is important that you understand everything about the operation you are having. You should be given an opportunity to talk about the operation with your surgeon. This might happen at the pre-assessment clinic. You will need to sign a consent form to say that you agree to the operation. No operation will be done without your consent.

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Preparation for an operation

Before any operation, you will be asked not to eat or drink anything for a few hours. This is known as being ’nil-by-mouth’.

You may also need to bathe and shave body hair from the area of the operation. The nurse looking after you will give you more details about this. Body hair is only shaved if it is essential. It is done using a disposable razor and the hair will begin to grow back after the operation.

Having an operation can put you at risk of getting a blood clot in the leg. Compression stockings (also known as anti-embolic stockings) help to reduce this risk. Your doctors and nurses may ask you to wear a pair of compression stockings during your operation and for a short time afterwards. A nurse will assess your individual risk and take your measurements. They will show you how to put the stockings on properly.

Back to Surgery explained

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.