On the day of your operation for cancer

Talk to your nurse if you have any questions about your operation. They can arrange for a member of the surgical team to come and talk to you. You'll sign a consent form for the operation if you didn't do it at the pre assessment clinic.

You might have a drip (intravenous infusion) in your arm before your surgery. You can have fluids through it. This makes sure you are not dehydrated before your operation.

Your nurse might give you a carbohydrate rich drink to have the evening before the operation. The drink gives you energy and can help you to recover more quickly.

Getting ready

Your nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate.

Your nurse will go through a series of questions on a checklist to make sure you are ready for surgery. They ask you to:

  • tell them when you last had something to eat and drink 
  • change into a hospital gown
  • put on a pair of surgical stockings
  • take off any jewellery (except for a wedding ring)
  • take off any make up, including nail varnish
  • remove contact lenses if you have them
  • put on 2 hospital identification bands, usually one on each wrist

If you have false teeth you can usually keep them in until you get to the anaesthetic room.

Your surgeon may use a marker pen to draw on your skin to show the area of the operation.

Shaving

For some types of surgery, you’ll need to shave the skin over the operation area. Or your nurse can shave it for you. They might do this when you’re under anaesthetic in the operating room.

Medicine to empty the bowel

Your surgeon might need your bowel to be completely empty before surgery. This usually means following a special diet for a few days. And taking medicines to completely clear the bowel. Your team will give you instructions.

Medicine to relax

Occasionally, your nurse might give you a tablet or an injection to help you relax. This will be about an hour before you go to the operating theatre. This makes your mouth feel dry but you can rinse your mouth with water to keep it moist.

Your nurse and a porter take you to theatre on a trolley if you have had medicine to help you relax. Usually, you will walk down to the operating theatre (if you have not taken medicine to make you relax). Your nurse will go to the operating theatre with you. 

Having an anaesthetic

You have an anaesthetic Open a glossary item so that you can’t feel anything during the operation. You have this in the anaesthetic room, next to the operating theatre.

All the doctors and nurses wear theatre gowns, hats and masks. This reduces your chance of getting an infection.

The anaesthetist puts a small tube into a vein in your arm (cannula) so that you can have any fluids and medicines you need during the operation.

There are different types of anaesthetics. You may have a:

  • local anaesthetic – the anaesthetist injects anaesthetic to numb the part of your body being operated on
  • regional anaesthetic – the anaesthetist numbs a large area or part of your body, for example, using an injection into your spine (epidural) to numb your lower body
  • general anaesthetic – the anaesthetist gives you drugs that make you unconscious, so you aren't aware of anything during the operation

With local and regional anaesthetics, you may have a drug to help you relax as well as the injection to numb the area. You are awake during the operation but might feel sleepy. Your doctor may suggest a regional anaesthetic if you are not fit enough for a general anaesthetic.

You have a general anaesthetic as an injection of drugs into a vein in your arm. This makes you go into a deep sleep and when you wake up, the operation is over.

You might have a combination of anaesthetics for some types of surgery. For example, you might have a general anaesthetic and a regional anaesthetic (epidural) to help with pain relief after the operation.

Last reviewed: 
20 May 2022
Next review due: 
20 May 2025
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, 10th edition 
    S Lister and others (Editors)
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2020

  • Mosby's oncology nursing advisor: a comprehensive guide to clinical practice
    S Newton
    Elsevier, 2016

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