Before your skin cancer surgery

You usually have your skin cancer operation as a day patient. You might be awake for the surgery and have a medicine to numb the area (local anaesthetic). But for larger operations, you might have a general anaesthetic and be asleep for the operation.

Before surgery, you have tests to check your fitness and you meet members of your treatment team. Your pre assessment appointment prepares you for your operation. You usually have this appointment 1 or 2 weeks before your operation.

Tests to check you're fit for surgery

You have some tests if you are going to have a general anaesthetic. These check:

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

You might have one or more of the following tests:

  • blood tests to check your general health and how well your kidneys are working
  • an ECG to check your heart is healthy
  • a chest x-ray to check that your lungs are healthy

Pre assessment clinic

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

Your pre-assessment 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.

Ask lots of questions. It helps to write these down 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 surgery so don’t worry if you forget to ask some.

Before your operation you’ll 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

Your skin cancer surgeon is either a dermatologist (skin specialist) or plastic surgeon. They’ll ask you to sign a consent for to agree to the operation, once they know you understand what’s involved.

The anaesthetist

The anaesthetist gives you the anaesthetic and they look after you during the operation. The anaesthetic is the medicine that keeps you asleep during your operation. They make sure you’re fit enough for 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 are ready to go home. They also check what help and support you have. Then they can see what you will need when you go home.

Eating and drinking

Having a general anaesthetic means you have to stop eating and drinking for a certain amount of time before your operation. This is so it’s safe for the anaesthetist to put you to sleep.

You can usually drink clear fluids until 2 hours or so before the surgery.

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.

Before you go into hospital

A small number of people might need to stay in overnight. It might help to plan what you will need to take if you are going to stay in overnight.

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

  • taking time off work
  • care for children or other loved ones
  • care for your pets
  • care for your house
  • cancelling your milk or newspapers

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 etc
  • sanitary wear or tampons
  • 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
  • chargers for electronic devices
  • a copy of your last clinic letter (if you have one)

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 nurse will give you numbers for your family to phone to find out how you are.

The time it takes to do the operation depends on the type of surgery you have.

Your operation might only take about 30 minutes to 1 hour if you have minor surgery. But the time spent in hospital is usually longer. You might be there for half a day or more.

Larger operations could take a few hours. You could be in hospital all day or overnight. So it might help to check how long things usually take so you and your family can plan.

  • 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.

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

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

Last reviewed: 
08 Feb 2023
Next review due: 
08 Feb 2026

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