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Preparing for surgery

Your pre assessment appointment prepares you for your operation. You’ll meet some of the members of your treatment team at this appointment. You usually have this appointment 1 or 2 weeks before your operation.

Tests to check you are fit for surgery

You have tests before your operation to check:

  • your fitness for an anaesthetic, if you need one
  • that you’ll make a good recovery from surgery

You might have some or all of the following tests:

  • blood tests to check your general health and how well your kidneys are working
  • an ECG to check that your heart is healthy
  • breathing tests (called lung function tests)
  • an echocardiogram (a painless test of your heart using sound waves)
  • a chest x-ray to check that your lungs are healthy

You also have a blood test to match your blood for any transfusions you might need during your surgery.

Pre assessment clinic

One or two weeks before your surgery you have an appointment at the hospital pre assessment clinic.

Your pre assessment appointment prepares you for your operation. You meet members of your treatment team at this appointment.

The doctor or nurse will tell you what to do on the day of your operation. This includes instructions about when to stop eating and drinking, and whether to stop taking any of your medicines. Do not stop taking your regular medicines unless the doctor tells you to.

Your doctor or nurse might also talk to you about the Enhanced Recovery Programme at your hospital. This is a programme of care that helps people recover more quickly after a big operation.

Ask lots of questions. It helps to write down all your questions beforehand to take with you. The more you know about what is going to happen, the less frightening it will seem.

You can ask more questions when you go into hospital on the day so don’t worry if you forget to ask some.

Before your operation you'll meet:

The surgeon

Your surgeon will tell you about:

  • the operation you are going to have
  • the benefits of having surgery
  • the possible risks
  • what to expect afterwards

They'll also ask you to sign a consent form to agree to the operation, once they know you understand what's involved. 

The anaesthetist

The anaesthetist looks after you during the operation and gives you medicine (anaesthetic) that gets you to sleep. They also make sure you’re fit enough to have the surgery.

The nurse

The nurse checks your:

  • general health
  • weight
  • blood pressure
  • heart rate (pulse)
  • temperature
  • breathing rate (respiration) 

The nurse looks after you straight after surgery and until you’re ready to home. They also check what help and support you have and find out what's needed when you go home.

Other people you might meet

There are other members of the healthcare team you might meet. This depends on:

  • the operation you're having
  • your general health before you go for your operation

The dietitian

The dietitian gives you help and advice about managing your diet. They might:

  • help you get as well as possible before your operation
  • explain how the surgery affects your diet
  • give useful tips on how to increase your nutrients and calories

Your dietician might give you nutritional supplement drinks before surgery. Or you may need it after surgery. 

Some people need a feeding tube in their stomach or small bowel. This makes sure you get the nutrition you need before and after your surgery.

The physiotherapist

The physiotherapist assesses how well you can move around. They let the doctors know if there is anything that could affect your recovery. They’ll also make sure you are safe to go home and get around. They can see if you need anything to help getting around easier like a walking frame for instance.

To help with recovery they might also teach you leg and breathing exercises to do after your operation. Learning how to do the exercises beforehand makes it easier afterwards.

The stoma nurse

You might see a stoma nurse if you are having a:

  • urostomy
  • continent urinary diversion
  • bladder reconstruction, in case your surgeon is unable to make a new bladder

Stoma nurses are experienced in looking after stomas. They help show you how to look after your stoma.

Preparing your bowel for the operation

You might need to follow a special diet for a few days before your surgery. This special diet reduces the amount of stool (poo) in the bowel. 

You might have some liquid (enema) gently put into your back passage (rectum). This empties the bowel completely.

Learning breathing and leg exercises

Breathing exercises help to stop you from getting a chest infection. If you smoke, it helps if you can stop at least a few weeks before your operation.

Leg exercises help to stop blood clots forming in your legs. You might also have medicines to stop the blood from clotting. You have them as small injections under the skin.

You start the injections before your operation. You might also wear compression stockings.

Your nurse and physiotherapist will get you up out of bed quite quickly after your surgery. This is to help prevent chest infections and blood clots forming.

This 3-minute video shows you how to do the breathing and leg exercises.

Eating and drinking

You can usually drink clear fluids until 2 hours or so before the surgery. They might also give you high protein, high calorie drinks to have each day. These can help maintain your nutrition and help you recover more quickly after the operation.

You usually have to stop eating at least 6 hours before your operation. They may even tell you to not eat anything from the night before your operation.

Follow the instructions given to you by your team of when to stop eating and drinking.

Preventing infection

It’s likely you will antibiotics before the operation to help stop infection. You have the antibiotics as an injection or as tablets.

Last reviewed: 
18 Jun 2019
  • BAUS Enhanced Recovery Pathway
    J Cartledge and others
    The British Association of Urological Surgeons, 2015.

  • Chapter 2 Guidelines for the Provisions of Anaesthesia Services for Pre-operative Assessment and Preparation 2018
    W Key and others
    Royal College of Anaesthetists, 2018.

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th edition)
    L Dougherty and S Lister
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

  • Stoma-associated problems: the important role of the specialist nurse
    A McGrath
    British Journal of Nursing, 2017. Volume 26, Number 6, Pages 30 - 31

  • ASCN Stoma Care National Clinical Guidelines
    Association of Stoma Care Nurses UK, 2016

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in. 

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