Preparing for Surgery

Whether you are having breast conserving surgery or a mastectomy to treat your breast cancer, you are likely to require a short stay in hospital. Your admission may be a number of hours (day surgery) or a number of days. It is likely that you will also be having some or all of the glands (lymph nodes) removed from the armpit at the same time

What happens before the operation?

You may be asked to attend a pre-admission clinic a few days before surgery to finalise paperwork and have any tests required by the anaesthetist. You are likely to be admitted to the hospital on the day of the operation, several hours before the surgery is scheduled to start.  You will usually be asked to call the hospital the evening prior to surgery. This will confirm the time you need to arrive at the hospital. You will also be asked to have nothing to eat or drink for several hours before the operation to minimise the risk associated with a general anaesthetic.

When you arrive at the hospital, a nurse will attend to your admission information. This will include your observations such as your temperature and blood pressure.  You will be asked if you have a contact person who will be available to take you home. You will also be assessed by a member of the anaesthetic team.

If you are having a sentinel node biopsy, the lymphatic mapping procedure will be performed in the nuclear medicine department before the surgery.

If your operation requires a  guidewire localisation  (a procedure which marks the breast cancer with a tiny  wire), this will be performed in the breast imaging centre or radiology practice under local anaesthetic before your surgery.

Before the operation

You will be asked to:

  • stop eating for about 6 hours before your operation but you can usually still drink water up to 4 hours beforehand
  • 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

If you have false teeth you can usually keep them in until you get to the anaesthetic room.

Your surgeon might use a marker pen to draw an outline on your skin to show the area of the operation. The marks may be on your breast and under your arm.

Having an anaesthetic

You have an anaesthetic so that you can’t feel anything during the operation. You have this in the anaesthetic room, next to the operating theatre.

All the doctors and nurses wear theatre gowns, hats and masks. This reduces your chance of getting an infection.

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

What to take to hospital with you

Take in:

  • nightgowns or pyjamas that button down the front. This will make it easier for you to change and for the doctors and nurses to examine you after your surgery.
  • underwear
  • slippers
  • contact lenses, solution, glasses and a case
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • small amount of money
  • medicines you normally take
  • magazines, books
  • headphones and music to listen to
  • earplugs in case you are not in a private room
  • a tablet or smartphone for web browsing, entertainment and phone calls

Bring a well fitting, non-wired bra for after your surgery. This will give support to your wound and make you more comfortable. You might want to take one in a darker colour and slightly larger than normal.

  • University of Cape Town
  • King Edward VII's Hospital
  • Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
  • Royal Hospital for Women
  • prime wales hospital
  • BreastScreen Australia