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Preparing for surgery

Find out about the tests you might have before surgery, what to expect at the pre assessment clinic and what might happen the evening before your operation.

Tests to check you are fit for surgery

You have tests before your operation to check:

  • your fitness for a general anaesthetic
  • that you'll make a good recovery from surgery

Tests might include:

  • blood tests to check your general health and how well your kidneys and liver 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

Your pre assessment clinic appointment prepares you for your operation. You have it about a week or so before surgery.

You meet members of your treatment team at this appointment and you can sign the consent form to agree to the operation.

Your doctor or nurse might 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 during your appointment. 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.

Who you might meet before your operation

Nurse or healthcare assistant 

At the pre assessment clinic a nurse or health care assistant checks your:

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

The nurse asks you questions to check your fitness for the operation. They can organise any further tests you might need. They ask about any medicines you are taking and give you information about what to expect when you come into hospital for the operation.

Specialist nurses

You may see a nurse who specialises in surgery of the bile ducts, liver and pancreas. They can help answer any questions you have about the operation.

You may also see your specialist cancer nurse. They can check what help and support you have to see what you will need when you go home. They are usually your main point of contact, and care for you throughout your treatment.

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 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 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.

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 or nurses 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.

The evening before

You might go into hospital the evening before or the morning of your surgery.

Your nurse might give you a carbohydrate-rich drink to have the evening before the operation. You might also have it the following morning. The drink gives you energy and can speed up your recovery.

When you're in hospital your nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse, temperature and breathing rate. You might have fluids through a drip (intravenous infusion) into your arm before your surgery if you have recently been finding it diffiucult to drink.

Last reviewed: 
22 Aug 2018
  • Venous thromboembolism in over 16s: reducing the risk of hospital-acquired deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism​
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015 

  • EASL Clinical Practice Guidelines: Management of hepatocellular carcinoma
    European Association for the Study of the Liver
    Journal of Hepatology, 2018. Volume 69, Pages 182-236

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

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