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Oral Cancer Surgery: How to Prep for Your Procedure

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

According to the American Cancer Society, surgery is often the first treatment option for oral cancers that are early-stage or haven’t spread significantly. There are many types of procedures used, depending on the location and stage of cancer involved. We’re here to outline what to expect and what you can do to prepare for oral cancer surgery recovery.

Attend All Preliminary Appointments

Upcoming surgery can be stressful. It's vital to attend any appointments before your procedure as the doctor can explain what to expect and help address any questions or concerns you may have.

Before your procedure, you're likely to undergo various tests to allow your medical team to assess your health and offer the best care for your cancer. You could have appointments for blood tests or an electrocardiogram to ensure you're fit for surgery. They will also probably perform imaging tests like CT scans, PET scans, x-rays, or MRIs. It can be challenging to have a lot of appointments. Remember that professionals are thorough because they care.

You will also meet with a surgeon before the procedure to review your medications and medical history.

Questions to consider asking before surgery:

  • What is the type of surgery I'll be having?
  • Are there other options to treat my cancer?
  • What are the success rate and risks involved?
  • What should I do leading up to the surgery?
  • How long is the recovery, and what should I expect?
  • Will the procedure affect the way I eat or speak?
  • Will I need any more surgeries?
  • Will I have food or exercise restrictions before or after the procedure?

Helpful tip: We recommend bringing a notebook with your questions written down to your appointments to make sure you don't forget what to ask, and you can write down answers to review later. Consider bringing a friend to help write things down so you can devote all of your attention to the appointment.

Follow Pre-Op Procedure

It's vital to follow your medical team's instructions exactly for your safety and avoid having to reschedule your procedure. While there are general tips to follow, it's good to keep in mind that every patient is unique, and professionals are the authority on your situation.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, if you are under anesthesia for your procedure, your doctor may advise you to avoid eating after midnight before your procedure. They might allow you to drink clear liquids and take regular medications, so be sure to consult your medical team.

There are some easy steps you can ask your doctor about to set yourself up for success:

  • Avoid smoking and tobacco products
  • Skip alcoholic beverages
  • Exercise gently for 30 minutes most days of the week
  • Employ relaxation techniques

Remember to ask a friend or family member for a ride home after your hospital stay because you may not be allowed to drive.

Follow Post-Op Instructions

Rehabilitation could be an essential part of your post-operative period. Swelling or changes to your mouth's structure could affect your swallowing or speech. Your doctor may recommend therapy in or out of the hospital to treat any problems during the post-operative management of oral cancer.

What is the typical oral cancer surgery recovery time? Most people remain in the hospital for a few days after their procedure, and you're likely to take several weeks to feel better.

Some issues you can expect after surgery:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Difficulty eating
  • Swelling or bloating around your mouth
  • Bleeding or oozing around any cuts
  • Constipation from medication
  • Diarrhea

Please consult with your doctor or medical team regularly to ensure they're controlling your pain and other side-effects effectively during surgery recovery. After your procedure, your doctor may watch you closely to ensure the best outcome.

Undergoing surgery can be a challenge, but the more informed you are, the better off you'll be. You're doing a great job by reading up on what to expect before and after your procedure. Follow your medical team's recommendations to the letter and communicate any questions or concerns you have for the best chance at a healthy recovery.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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