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Before your operation

Before surgery, you have tests to check your fitness and you meet members of your treatment team. You will probably go into hospital on the morning of your operation. 

The length of your hospital stay depends on what operation you have. You are usually in hospital for around 11 to 14 days after surgery to remove your oesophagus. 

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
  • a test to check your heart and lung function when you're resting and exercising (called a cardio pulmonary exercise test)

Who you might meet before your operation

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.

Nurse or health care assistant

They will check 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.

Specialist cancer nurse

Your specialist nurse can talk through your treatment plan and try to answer any questions that you have. They are usually your main point of contact, and care for you throughout your treatment. 

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.

Helping you recover

Your doctor and nurses might tell you about the enhanced recovery programme. This is a way of caring before, during and after your surgery to help you recover more quickly after a big operation. It includes advising you about:

  • being physically active
  • stopping smoking
  • drinking less alcohol
  • how to eat well before your surgery

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.

Going into hospital

You will probably go into hospital on the morning of your operation. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before your operation. 

The length of your hospital stay depends on what operation you have. You are usually in hospital for around 11 days after surgery to remove your oesophagus. 

What to take with you

Take in:

  • nightgowns or pyjamas
  • underwear
  • dressing gown
  • slippers
  • contact lenses, solution, glasses and a case
  • wash bag with soap, a flannel or sponge, toothbrush and toothpaste
  • sanitary wear or tampons
  • razor
  • towel
  • small amount of money
  • medicines you normally take
  • magazines, books, playing cards
  • headphones and music to listen to
  • a tablet or smartphone for web browsing, entertainment and phone calls

Family and friends

Your family or friends can go in with you to help you settle in. You’ll need to check the time of your operation and when the visiting times are.

The time it takes to do the operation depends on the type of surgery you have. Most operations take a few hours. The nurse will give you numbers for your family or friends to phone to find out how you are.

Before you go into hospital

It’s worth sorting out a few things before you go into hospital. These might include:

  • work
  • care for children or other loved ones
  • care for your pets
  • care for your house
  • cancelling your milk or newspapers
Last reviewed: 
03 Oct 2019
  • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer
    WH Allum and others
    Gut. 2011 Nov; 60(11):1449-72.

  • Minimally invasive oesophagectomy 
    NICE interventional procedure guidance [IPG407], September 2011.

  • Oesophago-gastric cancer: assessment and management in adults  [NG83]
    National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
    Published January 2018

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

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