On the day

Most skin cancer treatment is done as an outpatient under a local anaesthetic.

But you might have a a general anaesthetic if you need to have a larger operation. For example, if the surgeon removes your lymph nodes. 

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.

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

Your nurse might give you a tablet or an injection to help you relax. This will be an hour or so 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.

If you've had medicine to help you relax your nurse and a porter take you to theatre on a trolley. You can walk down to the theatre if you haven't had any.

Having an anaesthetic

Most skin cancer surgery uses a local anaestheitc. The doctor injects the local anaesthetic into the surrounding skin. This can sting, but the area then becomes numb. You stay awake for the procedure.

Some larger operations mean that you need a general anaesthetic. The anaesthetist puts a small tube into a vein in your arm (cannula). You have the general anaesthetic through the cannula as well as any fluids and medicines you might need. This sends you into a deep sleep. When you wake up, the operation will be over.

Before you go to sleep your anaesthetist might put a small tube in the space around your spine. This is called an epidural anaesthetic and is only used for some operations. The anaesthetist attaches a pump to this tube in the spine to give you pain medicines. This is to help control your pain after your operation.

Last reviewed: 
23 Oct 2020
Next review due: 
20 Oct 2023
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Blackwell, 2015

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition)
    L Dougherty and S Lister
    Wiley-Black, 2015

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