Preparing for surgery
As part of the preoperative assessment, you will be given instructions about how to prepare for the surgery based on your health and medical history. Let your treatment team know if you have any concerns about what you are asked to do. The advice you receive will cover a range of issues.
Learn more about:
- Bathing and shaving
- Eating and drinking
- Support person
- What to take with you
- What time to arrive
You will be told when to shower or bath. This may be the night before and/or morning of the surgery. If you have been told that hair near the surgical site needs to be shaved, you may be asked to do it yourself before you go to hospital, or it will be done when you are admitted. In cases where there is a lot of hair at the surgical site, you will be asked to avoid shaving the area yourself, as any cuts to the area can increase the risk of infection. You may also be asked not to wear any make-up or perfume.
Most people are told not to eat or drink for 6 –12 hours before surgery. This may be called fasting or nil by mouth. It ensures that your stomach is empty before surgery, which reduces the risk of some complications. In some cases, you can continue drinking clear fluids until two hours before surgery – your surgeon, anaesthetist or a hospital nurse will advise you about this. You should not drink alcohol or smoke for at least 24 hours before the operation, or chew gum while you are fasting.
Your doctor will tell you whether to keep taking any medicine you are on or to stop taking it in the days or weeks before surgery. If you have to take medicine while fasting, swallow it with a small mouthful of water. If you are on blood thinners, including minor ones like aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or clopidogrel, talk to your surgeon about whether you need to stop taking them.
You may want to ask a friend or family member to stay in the waiting room while you are in surgery. If you are having day surgery, you should arrange for someone to take you home when you are discharged. It’s not safe to travel alone or use public transport or a taxi, as you will still be under the effects of the anaesthetic.
Your treatment team will let you know what personal items to take to hospital with you and what to leave at home. For example, they may tell you to take all your current medicines with you, but suggest you leave valuables, such as jewellery, at home. You should also take your admission letter and any recent x-rays or scans with you. If you are staying in hospital after your operation, you might like to take some toiletries and nightclothes.
You will be told what time to arrive at the hospital, either in the letter confirming the surgery or during a phone call from the hospital on the day before the surgery. You may have to wait for surgery, which can be stressful. It’s a good idea to take a quiet activity with you to keep you occupied and feeling calm, e.g. a book or tablet device.
|You will be asked to remove nail polish, including clear polish, before surgery. Checking your fingernails during surgery is one way the anaesthetist can check the level of oxygen in your blood.|
Prof Andrew Spillane, Surgical Oncologist, Melanoma Institute of Australia, and Professor of Surgical Oncology, The University of Sydney Northern Clinical School, NSW; Lynne Hendrick, Consumer; Judy Holland, Physiotherapist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Kara Hutchinson, Cancer Nurse Coordinator, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Declan Murphy, Urologist and Director of Genitourinary Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof Stephan Schug, Director of Pain Medicine, Royal Perth Hospital, and Chair of Anaesthesiology and Pain Medicine, The University of Western Australia Medical School, WA; Dr Emma Secomb, Specialist Surgeon, Hinterland Surgical Centre, QLD. We would like to thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.