Planning and preparation

To make the process of planning and having surgery easier, you need to:

  • have the required preoperative tests
  • understand the risks and possible complications, and give your informed consent
  • follow specific instructions about how to prepare for surgery.

It’s common to have to wait for surgery. The length of time depends on many factors, including the type of cancer you have and its stage, the surgery you are having and the hospital’s schedule. In most cases, waiting doesn’t have a major impact on the surgery outcome. If you are anxious or concerned about waiting for surgery, speak to your surgeon or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

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Preoperative assessment

During a preoperative assessment appointment, your medical team will check your fitness for surgery. The health professionals you see will vary depending on the type of cancer and surgery and your general health, but they could include:

  • the surgeon or another member of the surgical team, such as a resident medical officer or registrar 
  • the anaesthetist or another member of the anaesthesia team, such as a specialist nurse or registrar
  • a physiotherapist to show you exercises to do before surgery to improve the chances of a smooth recovery.

You will be asked about your medical history and any medicines you are taking. You may also have tests such as blood tests, urine tests and a chest x-ray, and imaging tests such as CT, MRI or PET scans. You probably won’t need to have all of these tests and scans.

You will be told whether you will have surgery as an inpatient or outpatient, what to take to hospital, and other useful information. Your legs may be measured for stockings to help reduce the chance of developing a blood clot in your veins (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). You might wear these during surgery and for a short time afterwards.

If you will need support services after surgery, such as the advice of a dietitian or social worker, you will be given referrals for these.

If you are having minor surgery, you may not need to attend a preoperative assessment appointment. Your doctor will discuss the surgery and how to prepare at one of your usual appointments.

Tell the doctor if you are taking any over-the-counter or herbal medicines, as these could affect the surgery and your recovery.

Understanding the risks

Almost all medical procedures have risks, and surgery is no exception. Factors to consider when weighing up the risks and benefits include:

  • the length of the operation
  • the type of anaesthetic you will have
  • your age and general health.

Although advances in surgical techniques have made surgery safer, there are still things that may not go as planned. See The day of the surgery and Recovering from surgery. Overall, you and your surgeon should feel that the expected benefits outweigh the possible risks.

Informed consent

A doctor needs your agreement (consent) to perform any medical treatment. Receiving and understanding information about treatment before agreeing is called informed consent.

Adults can give their consent – or refuse it – if they have capacity. Capacity means they can understand the information about the proposed choices and make decisions based on this information.

Sometimes consent is not needed, such as in a medical emergency. However, if your surgery is planned, your doctor will discuss:

  • why you need the surgery and its benefits
  • other treatment options
  • how they will perform the surgery
  • possible side effects, risks and complications.

For more on consent, see Cancer Care and Your Rights or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Preparing for surgery

At the preoperative assessment appointment, you will be given instructions about how to prepare for the surgery based on your health and medical history. Let your treatment team know if you have any concerns about what you are asked to do.

Smoking can delay your healing and recovery time. If you smoke, try to quit before you have surgery. Giving up smoking can be difficult. For help, talk to your doctor or call the Quitline on 13 7848.

The advice you receive will cover the following issues:

  • Bathing and shaving – You will be told to shower or bathe either the night or morning before surgery. If you have been told that hair near the surgical site will need to be shaved, you may be asked to do it yourself before you go to hospital, or it will be done when you are admitted. In cases where there is a lot of hair at the surgical site, you will be asked to avoid shaving the area yourself, as any cuts to the area can increase the risk of infection.

    You will be asked to remove nail polish, including clear polish, before surgery. Checking your fingernails during surgery is one way the anaesthetist can monitor the level of oxygen in your blood.

  • Eating and drinking – Most people are told not to eat or drink for 6–12 hours before surgery. This may be called fasting or nil by mouth, and it ensures that your stomach is empty before surgery. This reduces the risk of some complications. In some cases, you can continue drinking clear fluids until two hours before surgery – your surgeon or anaesthetist will advise you on this. You should also avoid drinking alcohol and smoking for at least 24 hours before the operation.
  • Medicine – Your doctor will tell you whether to keep taking any medicine you are on or to stop taking it in the days or weeks before surgery. If you’re instructed to fast and have to take medicine, swallow it with a small mouthful of water.
  • Support person – You may want to ask a friend or family member to stay in the waiting room while you are in surgery. If you are having day surgery, you should arrange for someone to take you home when you are discharged. It’s not safe to travel alone or use public transport or a taxi, as you will still be under the effects of the anaesthetic. If your treatment centre has a social worker, they can help organise transport if necessary.
  • Personal items – Your treatment team will let you know what personal items to take to hospital with you and what to leave at home. For example, they may tell you to take all your current medicines with you, but suggest you leave valuables, such as jewellery, at home.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Understanding Surgery.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

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Apple devices

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Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in April 2016
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