What to expect after surgery

How long you stay in hospital will depend on the type of surgery you have and how well you recover. If surgery is minor, recovery is usually fast and there are often few long-term side effects. For more advanced cancer, surgery will be more extensive, lasting eight hours or more, and it will often cause permanent side effects.

Side effects after head and neck cancer surgery vary greatly depending on your age, your general health, how extensive the surgery was and whether you also had reconstructive surgery. Your surgeon can give you a better idea of what to expect after the operation. The side effects listed below are often temporary. For more information about ongoing effects, see Managing side effects.


You will have some pain and discomfort for several days after surgery, but you will be given pain-relieving medicines to manage this. You may be given tablets, or you may have patient-controlled analgesia (PCA), which delivers a measured dose of pain relief through a drip when you press a button.

Drips and drains

You may have tubes at the surgery site to drain excess fluid from the wound. These are usually removed after a few days, depending on how much fluid is being collected and the type of surgery. You may also have a tube from your bladder to drain urine into a bag. This is known as a catheter.

Speech changes

Your ability to speak may be affected. This side effect is often temporary, but see Changes to speech if it is ongoing.

Sore throat

You may have some throat discomfort from the anaesthetic tube. This kind of discomfort or irritation usually lasts less than 24 hours. You may also have a sore throat as a result of surgery for pharyngeal or laryngeal surgery; this is usually short-term.

Breathing difficulties

If your mouth, tongue or throat is expected to be swollen after the surgery, it could make breathing difficult. The surgeon may discuss inserting a temporary tracheostomy in your neck to allow you to breathe (see Breathing changes for more information). Surgery to the nasal cavity may change the way you breathe through your nose. This may be temporary or longer-lasting.

Eating and drinking

You will usually have a drip to give you fluids. You will start with drinking clear liquids, move on to pureed food, and then soft foods. If eating and drinking is going to be difficult or delayed, a temporary feeding tube may be inserted through your nasal passageway for a few days or weeks. Alternatively, a gastrostomy tube, known as a PEG or a RIG feeding tube, may be inserted into your stomach. If you have reconstructive surgery to your mouth or throat, you may have a feeding tube to allow the free flap to heal.


Your health care team will encourage you to walk the day of the surgery, or the day after, depending on how extensive your surgery was. Moving around as much as possible will speed up your recovery and reduce the chance of blood clots or infections. The nurse or a physiotherapist will show you how to move around safely. A physiotherapist will teach you breathing or coughing exercises to help your lungs clear and reduce the risk of getting a chest infection.

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The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
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Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in September 2019
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Learn more about surgery and recovering from it

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