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Preparing for surgery

Find out about what happens before surgery, the people you’ll meet and the exercises you need to do.

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

Pre assessment clinic

You have an appointment at the hospital pre assessment clinic. This is usually up to a couple of weeks before your surgery date.

Your pre assessment appointment prepares you for your operation.

You meet members of your treatment team at this appointment and you can sign the consent form to agree to the 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 so don’t worry if you forget to ask some. At the hospital you might meet:

The surgeon

A member of the surgical team will tell you about:

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

The anaesthetist

The anaesthetist gives you the anaesthetic and looks after you during the operation. They make sure you’re fit enough for the surgery.

The nurse 

The nurse checks your:

  • general health
  • weight
  • blood pressure
  • pulse
  • temperature

They also check what help and support you have to see what you will need when you go home.

The dietitian

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

  • 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

They might give you nutritional supplement drinks to have before surgery.

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

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

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.

On the day

You have an anaesthetic so that you can’t feel anything during the operation. You have your surgery in the operating theatre.

Last reviewed: 
19 Dec 2017
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser, 2015

  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg 
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition) 
    L Dougherty and S Lister (Editors)

    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

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