Before & After Surgery

Preparing for Your Operation

  • You will be contacted by the pre-operative call center prior to your surgery to confirm the time and date of your surgery. If you do not hear from them by the business day before your surgery, please call them at 720-848-6070 between 2 and 4 p.m.
  • Do not eat or drink anything for 6 hours before the operation.
  • Shower or bathe as usual on the morning of the operation.


  • Do not take aspirin, ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for 7 days before the operation.
  • Stop herbal medications and supplements 2 weeks before surgery.
  • Blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), Pradaxa (Dabigatran), Xarelto (rivaroxaban), Eliquis (apixaban), Lovenox (enoxaparin), Fragmin (dalteparin), and Plavix (clopidogrel) need to be stopped a few days to a week prior to surgery. It is important to discuss with your surgeon exactly when these medications should be stopped.
  • Stop ACE/ARBS medications 24 hours before surgery. These include any medication that ends with -pril or –sartan (e.g., Acupril, Losartan, Prinivil, Lisinopril)
  • Do NOT stop inhalers and other lung medications.
  • Do NOT stop beta blockers (metoprolol, atenolol, etc.)
  • Discuss diabetes medications with your doctor or Pre-Procedure Services.
  • Stop ADHD drugs one day before surgery.
  • Stop cholesterol/lipid meds one day before surgery.
  • Other medications such as antacid medications and medications for depression or anxiety are generally OK to take on day of surgery; discuss with your surgeon if you have questions.

When You Arrive

  • When you arrive at the hospital, the first step will be registration. Then you will go to the pre-operative area, where a nurse will guide you through a series of safeguards and preparations for surgery.
  • Next you will meet the surgical team, which includes anesthesia professionals, nursing staff, surgical residents, and your surgeon.
  • You will be given general anesthesia, so you will be asleep during the procedure.
  • The duration of the operation depends on the type and extent of the resection. Two to three hours is typical.
  • Your surgeon will contact your family as soon as your operation is completed.

If you have questions before your surgery, please call 303-724-2724.

After Surgery

Hospital Stay

You will wake up in a recovery room. When your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are normal, you will be taken to a regular hospital room. If you have other medical problems, you may spend the night in the Intermediate Care Unit for closer monitoring.

Pain can be controlled with medicine. Occasionally swallowing may be a little difficult. You will be started on a liquid diet and advanced to solid foods as tolerated.

Most people are able to go home in one or two days. On rare occasions, a patient may need to stay longer in the hospital.

Drains: If you had a central neck dissection and have a drain coming out of your neck, it will likely be removed before you are discharged. If you had a lateral neck dissection, your drains will remain in place until you are seen in clinic for a follow-up. You will be instructed how to care for the drains and to record the amount of drainage. As healing takes place, the fluid drainage decreases to a low level. The drain is kept in place until this minimal level is reached so that fluid does not accumulate in the neck.

Home Care

  • You will feel tired for several days. You can engage in as much activity as you feel up to.
  • You will have some swelling in the neck and possibly in the upper chest.
  • You may shower 24 hours after your surgery.
  • You may remove the dressing 3 days after your surgery.
  • Driving can be resumed when you feel comfortable turning your head to look over the shoulder and no longer need pain medications.
  • You may return to work when you feel up to it. Most patients need 2-3 weeks off work.

Postoperative Instructions

  • When you return home from the hospital, call 303-724-2728 to schedule your follow-up appointment.
  • Start with a liquid diet, then advance to regular food as tolerated.
  • A mild fever is normal and may persist for a day or so. If your fever gets higher than 101˚ F, call our office (303-724-2728).
  • For mild pain, you may take Tylenol or other over-the-counter pain medications. Take prescribed pain medication only if needed. Use other medications as directed.
  • Your physical activity is in no way restricted. You should actively rotate your head from side to side and up and down to prevent stiffness. If you have pain and discomfort when engaging in a particular activity, you are probably trying to do too much. If you do not have pain or discomfort, feel free to do as much as you want.
  • If you have difficulty with bowel movements, you may take any laxative (such as Milk of Magnesia) twice a day until you have a bowel movement.
  • If you have had a central neck dissection, your blood calcium level will be monitored while you are recovering from surgery in the hospital. Starting the day after surgery, you will need to take a calcium supplement, calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. The usual dose is 500 mg three times a day (i.e., a total of 1,500 mg per day).

Home Exercises

In order to avoid stiffness in the neck and shoulder, exercises can be started 2-3 times per day as soon as the day after surgery.

Scar Management

Scarring is a part of every surgery and is very important to many patients for a variety of reasons: Scars may be painful, itchy or unsightly. Below is a list of common topical agents that are available over-the-counter for scarring.

Most incisions will heal to a thin, cosmetically acceptable scar without using any of the agents described below. However, if you would like to use a topical agent to improve healing and the cosmetic appearance of your scar, we recommend a silicone-based product. See below for additional details.

If you're short on time, you can skip to the summary.


Silicones are synthetic polymers that can be a liquid, gel, or rubber.


Several studies illustrate that treatment of hypertrophic and keloid scars with silicone gel improves the appearance and bulk of the scars, especially in patients with burns. The superiority of one form of silicone gel dressing over another is not clear. Although both silicone gel sheeting and silicone gels improved scars, studies indicate no significant difference between the two forms.

Silicone dressings are believed to decrease scars via wound hydration, increased static charge, and modulation of growth factors.

Materials other than silicones (i.e., polyurethane) have shown to be equally effective in the treatment of hypertrophic scars. Both silicone and non-silicone gel dressings have been effective in reducing scar size, induration, and symptoms, but no significant differences have been noted between treatment with silicone and treatment with non-silicone gel dressings.

Bottom Line: There is good evidence showing the efficacy and safety of topical silicone for the treatment of hypertrophic and keloid scars. Silicone gel may improve the thickness, color, and texture of scars, especially thick ones. Although early treatment is ideal, silicone gel sheeting may still be beneficial for older scars.

Patients who wish to use silicone gel for scar management should apply it to the scar for 8 to 24 hours per day. It may take several months to see improvement.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E preparations are probably the most popular for use in improving the cosmetic appearance of scars.

Belief Basis

Early studies showed that vitamin E, applied topically, penetrates deep into the dermis and subcutaneous tissue, which is likely what led to the idea that vitamin E may improve wound healing when applied topically. When the skin is injured, free oxygen radicals are released in the inflammatory phase and may affect healing. In theory, Vitamin E could reduce free radicals by its antioxidant activity, thus enhancing wound healing.


Research on the effects of vitamin E on skin healing is sparse. Studies have shown that topically applied vitamin E provides no more effect than other emollient-type ointments, and hydration appears to be its only beneficial effect. Interestingly, topical vitamin E may actually cause more harm than good, possibly worsening a scar's appearance and causing contact dermatitis, contact urticaria, and erythema multiform-like reactions in some patients. A recent report from Widegrow has highlighted the skin irritation and reduced tensile strength caused by vitamin E. Use of vitamin E later on in the scar's maturity (4 to 6 weeks and later) may flatten the scar because of its hydrative capabilities, but it may result in a stretched and weakened scar because of its decreased strength effect on the scar; and if used too early, wound separation can occur.

Bottom Line: Although many patients believe vitamin E speeds wound healing and improves the look of a scar, current research evidence does not support this idea. In fact, studies report adverse effects with use of vitamin E.

We discourage patients from using topical vitamin E on healing wounds and scars.

Onion Extract

Another popular and heavily marketed over-the-counter scar treatment consists of onion extract in a topical gel, which has been marketed as a product to improve scar appearance and texture (Mederma, Merz Pharmaceuticals).


The mechanism of onion extract seems to reside in its antihistamine properties. The theory behind this is that a compound that blocks histamine release may decrease collagen production by fibro-blasts, resulting in reduced scar volume and normalization of the scar maturation process. The cosmetic result is a decrease in scar redness and hypertrophy.


Wounds treated with Mederma did show significantly better improvement of collagen organization. However, a prospective, double-blind study of Caucasian males demonstrated that the effects of topical onion extract on cosmetic appearance, erythema, and hypertrophy of scars in new surgical scars were equivalent to those of petroleum emollient.

Bottom Line: Products containing onion extract (i.e., Mederma) do not improve scar symptoms and have not shown any benefit over petroleum emollients. Applying this product to scars will probably not cause any harm, but will also probably not improve them.


Honey has been used as a dressing for wounds and burns for centuries.


Honey' effects on wound healing are theorized to be from its antibacterial activity in addition to its hydrating properties.


A review of 22 clinical trials involving more than 2,000 patients concluded that honey rapidly clears existing wound infections and protects against further infection, reduces swelling, minimizes scarring, removes infected and dead tissue, and speeds healing by stimulating new tissue growth.
Bottom Line: More well-designed, double-blind controlled trials in humans are needed, but preliminary studies are promising regarding honey and its wound-healing and scar-improvement properties.

Applying honey to a healing wound or existing scar has not been shown to be harmful and may speed healing and improve scar appearance.

What works? The bottom line

To summarize, silicone gel has the most data behind it as an efficacious topical, over-the-counter treatment option for scars, and is an option for patients who want something they can buy themselves. Also, there is probably not any harm, and possibly some benefit, to rubbing honey onto healing wounds and scars.

Further controlled studies involving human subjects are needed for topical, natural preparations for scars, so in the meantime, we recommend that patients not waste time or money on other “natural” products that claim to improve the look of scars.

Sample Products: Silicone-Based Scar Therapy

We do not endorse any particular silicone gel over another; the products below are simply examples of brands that are available over the counter at the time of this posting.

Cica-Care gel sheeting (Smith and Nephew

Epi-derm (Biodermis)

Mepiform (Molnlycke Health Care)

Kelo-cote (Alliance Pharmaceuticals)

ScarGel (Spenco)

This information is provided by the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.


CU Anschutz

Academic Office One

12631 East 17th Avenue

Room: 6111

Aurora, CO 80045


CMS Login