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. The advice you receive will cover a range of issues. Let your treatment team know if you have any concerns about what you are asked to do.
Learn more about:
- Bathing and shaving
- Eating and drinking
- What to take with you
- Organise help
- What time to arrive
You will be told when to shower or bathe. 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 removed, you may be asked to do it yourself before you go to hospital, or it may 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, nail polish, moisturiser, perfume or deodorant; and to remove false nails and piercings.
Most people are told not to eat (fast) for 6 hours before surgery. This ensures that your stomach is empty before having an anaesthetic, which reduces the risk of food getting into your lungs (aspiration). Depending on the type of operation, your surgeon may tell you to avoid having some types of food and drink. You should not drink alcohol or smoke for at least 24 hours before the operation, or chew gum while you are fasting. In some cases, you can continue drinking clear fluids such as water or will be given supplements to drink up to 2 hours before surgery – your surgeon, anaesthetist or a hospital nurse will advise you about this.
What to take with you
The hospital will let you know what personal items to take with you and what to leave at home. For example, they may tell you 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, nightclothes and non-slip, comfortable shoes.
If you are having day surgery, you will need to arrange for someone to take you home when you are discharged and stay with you for 24 hours after surgery. 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.
If you are admitted to hospital, talk to your doctor about whether you will be able to go home when you are discharged or will need to go to a rehabilitation unit. If you go home, you may need to organise for a relative or friend to stay with you for a few days in case you have any complications. They can also help with washing, dressing and meals.
You may also need to organise equipment to help your recovery.
Your doctor will tell you whether to keep taking any medicine you are on or stop taking it in the days or weeks before surgery. If you are told to take medicine while fasting, swallow it with a small mouthful of water. If you are on blood thinners, including over-the-counter ones like aspirin and ibuprofen, talk to your surgeon about whether you need to stop taking them.
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 magazine).
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
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.