Your stay in hospital will depend on the extent of your surgery.  For some people they may be in hospital for several days or up to a few weeks.

After the operation it is likely you will have several drips, drains and tubes attached to you.  These are to keep you safe and promote your recovery.  Most of these will be removed within the first week following surgery by the team looking after you.

For more information, please click the link below to download the ‘General Information for Patients Undergoing Major Head & Neck Surgery’.  This booklet will give you and your family general information about major head and neck surgery. It is not meant to replace the discussion between you and your cancer team but will add to the explanations given to you.

You may experience some mild pain or discomfort for a few days or short weeks after your surgery. Most people tell us their pain is very well managed and have less pain after surgery than they expected. While in hospital, the team looking after you will assess your pain on a daily basis and review your pain medication.

You will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible after your surgery. It is important to do deep breathing exercises and leg movements.  This is an essential part of your recovery. Speak to the physiotherapist about deep breathing and leg movement exercises after surgery.


For some people changes to speech are hardly noticeable. For others, their speech or voice is temporarily or permanently changed.  Your team will discuss this with you before starting your treatment.

Temporary tracheostomy tube

Sometimes an operation for mouth cancer can cause swelling to your mouth and around your neck so you may have a temporary opening into the windpipe to breathe through. This is called a tracheostomy.  For most people this will be removed within the first week after your surgery, usually around 4 – 6 days after your operation.

Diagram showing a tracheostomy


Immediately after surgery you may not be eating or drinking.  This means you may have to be given food, fluids and medicine directly into the stomach through a feeding tube. Tube feeding is an important way to ensure you have adequate nutrition to help your wounds heal and your body recover from the operation.

Often the feeding tube is put in place during your operation. Tube feeding can be managed either by a thin flexible tube via your nose into your stomach (called a nasogastric tube) or directly through the skin into your stomach (called a PEG or RIG tube).  Once your mouth and throat have healed, your surgeon may arrange for you to have a swallow assessment by a speech and language therapist (SLT).  This is to check whether you have any swallowing difficulties.  When you can eat and swallow safely, the feeding tube is removed.

If your specialist cancer team feel you will need tube feeding for longer than 4 weeks they will discuss the option of having a PEG or RIG tube inserted.


If you are going to have radiotherapy after your surgery, you may need a feeding tube until all your treatment is completed. This is because radiotherapy can give you a sore mouth and throat, which can make it difficult for you to eat.   For some people they will require their PEG or RIG tube in the longer term.


Before your operation, your surgeon and specialist nurse can talk to you about the possible changes in your appearance.  It is important to have a good idea of how your appearance is likely to change.

Operations to peoples mouth and neck can often cause swelling, so you face and neck may look very swollen immediately after your operation.  This slowly gets better over a few months.


Before you leave hospital, you will be given a follow-up appointment.  This is generally for two to three weeks following your discharge.  At this appointment the team will assess your wounds, your progress and if your results (pathology) are available these will be discussed, with plans put in place for any further treatment or therapy you may need.

The ward nurses can also refer you to the District Nursing team or the Treatment Room Nurse at your GP surgery to help you with any wounds or dressings you may have.

If you need to go home with a feeding tube, the team in the hospital will teach you and your family members or friends how to use and look after it.

Some people will also need further follow-up with the dietitian, SLT and physiotherapist and the team will make follow-up arrangements for you nearer your home.  You will also have the number of your specialist nurse, who you can contact for support and information after discharge from hospital.