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Before your operation for mouth cancer

Men and women discussing mouth cancer

This page tells you about what to expect before you have your operation for mouth or oropharyngeal cancer. You can find information below about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Before your operation for mouth cancer

When you go into hospital for your operation, your surgeon, anaesthetist, physiotherapist, nurse and dietician will come to talk to you about what will happen. Your surgeon will explain the operation and tell you what to expect when you come round from the anaesthetic. If your operation might cause problems with speech, a speech therapist will talk to you about how you can communicate afterwards.

A physiotherapist will teach you breathing and leg exercises. It is very important that you do these exercises as they describe because they will help you to get better more quickly.

It is important to ask as many questions as you need to. It may help to make a list of questions before you go into hospital to have your surgery.

You will also have tests to check your general health before your operation. They may include blood tests, a chest X-ray, a CT scan, an ECG and breathing tests. These tests help to make sure you are fit enough to make a good recovery from your surgery.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating mouth cancer section.

 

 

Information and explanation

Before your operation you will see

They will come to talk to you about what will happen. Your surgeon will explain what the operation involves and what to expect when you come round from the anaesthetic. This may include information about when you will be able to move around. If you are going to have a hole made into your neck (a tracheostomy) your nurse will explain what this involves. The nurse will also tell you how you can look after the tracheostomy. If your operation might cause problems with speech, a speech therapist will talk to you about how you can communicate afterwards.

The team may meet you in the outpatient pre assessment clinic before you go into hospital. Or you may meet them when you arrive at the hospital for your operation. They will ask if you have any questions. It may help to make a list of questions before you go into hospital to have your surgery. There are some suggestions for questions at the end of this section. 

The more you know about what is going to happen, the less frightening it will seem. Don’t worry if you think of more questions later. Just speak to your nurses, and they or your doctor can explain things further. When your questions have been answered your surgeon will ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the operation. Remember that no operation can be done without your consent.

The preparation before your operation will vary slightly depending on where your cancer is and the type of operation you are having.

 

Tests before your operation

Before most mouth and oropharyngeal cancer operations, you will have

  • Blood tests to check your general health and find out your blood type
  • A chest X-ray, or CT scan, to check that your lungs are healthy
  • An ECG to check your heart is healthy

You may have had some of the tests mentioned above when your cancer was diagnosed. If so, you may not have to repeat them. As well as the tests above, you might also need

  • Breathing tests (called lung function tests)
  • An ECG while you are exercising

These help to make sure you are fit enough to make a good recovery from your surgery.

 

Leg and breathing exercises

A physiotherapist will teach you breathing and leg exercises. The breathing exercises help to stop chest infections. Leg exercises help to stop blood clots forming in your legs. Both these complications of surgery can happen when you are not moving around as much as you would normally.

Below is a short video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery. Click on the arrow to watch it.

 


 

View a transcript of the video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery (opens in new window)

It is very important that you do the breathing and leg exercises as instructed because they will help you to get better more quickly. Your nurses will encourage you to get up and about as soon as possible after your operation. But if you have major surgery you may have to stay in bed for the first day or so.

 

Eating and drinking

If you have recently been finding eating and drinking difficult, you may have fluids through a drip (intravenous infusion) before your surgery. The fluids prevent dehydration before your operation.

 

Smoking

If you smoke, your doctor will encourage you to stop. Smoking is a main risk factor for mouth or oropharyngeal cancer. If you carry on smoking, it will increase your risk of the cancer coming back. Smoking can also slow down wound healing and make complications more likely after the operation. 

Giving up smoking can be very difficult, especially if you have smoked for a long time. But it will help you to recover from treatment faster and help prevent further cancers. Stopping smoking also helps to lower the risk of a chest infection after surgery. There is information about how to stop smoking on the Cancer Research UK news and resources website.

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Updated: 14 October 2014