Planning and preparation
Although each person’s situation is different, this is a general overview of what may happen before surgery. Procedures vary between hospitals.
Learn more about:
- Preoperative assessment
- Looking after your health before surgery
- Enhanced recovery after surgery programs
- Understanding the risks
- Informed consent
- Preparing for surgery
You will be told whether you will have surgery as an inpatient or outpatient, how long you will need to stay at the hospital, what to take to hospital and other useful information (see Looking after your health before surgery and Preparing for surgery). You will usually receive admission instructions from the hospital.
Your surgeon will ask you to complete a questionnaire about your medical history, including any allergies and any medicines you take. Tell them if you are taking any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs or other supplements, as these could affect the surgery and your recovery. For example, they may increase the risk of bleeding during surgery or affect the way pain medicines work.
If you don’t need to attend a pre-admission clinic, your surgeon will talk to you at one of your usual appointments about the surgery and any preparations you need to make. If you are having surgery privately, the anaesthetist may call you to discuss any issues noted on your pre-admission questionnaire.
Depending on the surgery you are having and your general health, you may need to attend a pre-admission clinic.
This may be in person or over telehealth. Your medical team will check your fitness for surgery and recommend any tests or other things you need to do to prepare for surgery and ensure the best outcomes.
The health professionals you see at the clinic will vary depending on any other health conditions you have, the type of cancer and the surgery planned, but they could include:
- the surgeon or a resident medical officer or registrar
- the anaesthetist or another member of the anaesthesia team, such as a specialist nurse or registrar
- a physiotherapist to show you exercises to do before surgery to improve the chances of a smooth recovery
- other specialists depending on your medical history and the type of surgery (e.g. you may see a heart specialist)
- specialist nurses such as a cancer care coordinator, breast care nurse or stomal therapy nurse.
You may also have blood tests (including compatibility testing in case you need a blood transfusion), urine tests, heart monitoring tests (ECG) and a chest x-ray, and imaging tests such as CT, MRI or PET–CT scans. You may not need to have all of these tests and scans.
Enhanced recovery after surgery programs
Some hospitals in Australia have programs to reduce the stress of surgery and improve recovery. These are called enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) or fast track surgical (FTS) programs.
These programs encourage you to play an active part in your care through pre-admission counselling and education about pain, diet and exercise, so you know what to expect before and after surgery.
Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and University of Sydney, NSW; Chanelle Curnuck, Dietitian – Dietetics and Nutrition, Sir Charles Gairdner Osborne Park Health Care Group, WA; Department of Anaesthetics, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Medicine, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Feeney, Nurse Unit Manager, Breast, Endocrine and Gynaecology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; John Leung, Consumer; Rohan Miegel, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, University of Queensland and Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Lucy Pollerd, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Suzanne Ryan, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Department of General Surgery, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Rebecca Yeoh, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.