After your operation for rectal cancer
How quickly you recover from your operation will depend on your age and health, and the type of surgery you’ve had. Your doctor and specialist nurse can give you an idea of what to expect.
After your operation, you’ll be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. This is an essential part of your recovery. Even if you have to stay in bed, it’s important to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises.
A physiotherapist or nurse will explain these exercises to you. As you won’t be moving around as much as usual, you may be at risk of blood clots. To prevent this, you’ll be asked to wear special stockings, and may also be given injections of a drug (heparin) to prevent blood clots. These are given under the skin (subcutaneously).
When you go back to the ward, you’ll have a drip (infusion) that gives you fluids through a thin tube (cannula) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will be taken out once you’re able to eat and drink normally again.
You may also have a thin tube that passes down your nose into your stomach, which is known as a nasogastric or NG tube. This allows any fluids to be removed from your stomach so that you don’t feel sick. It’s normally taken out within a few days.
You’ll probably be ready to start taking sips of water on the evening or day after your surgery. This will be increased gradually and you will start a light diet as soon as possible.
Often a small tube (catheter) is put into your bladder. This drains urine into a collecting bag. This is usually taken out after a couple of days. You may also have a drainage tube in your wound, to drain any extra fluid and make sure the wound heals properly. A drain isn’t always needed.
After your operation, you’ll probably have some pain or discomfort for a few days. There are several different types of painkillers that can be given to you either at regular intervals or when you need them. You may be given painkillers into a vein in your arm through a pump. The pump can be set to give you a controlled amount of painkiller, or you may be able to control this yourself by pressing a button. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA).
You may be given painkillers into the space around your spinal cord through a very fine tube placed in your back during surgery (epidural). The tubing connects to a pump, which gives you a continuous dose of painkillers.
Always let your doctor or nurse know if you have any pain or discomfort. The painkillers or their dose can be changed to suit your needs. After an abdomino-perineal resection, it may be uncomfortable to sit down, but this should ease gradually as the wound begins to heal.
Depending on the type of operation you’ve had, you’ll probably be ready to go home 3–10 days after surgery. If you think that you might have problems when you go home (for example, if you live alone or have several flights of stairs to climb) let your nurse or the social worker know when you’re admitted to the ward. They can then arrange help before you leave hospital.
You’ll be given an appointment to attend an outpatient clinic for your post-operative check-up. At the appointment your doctor can discuss whether you need any further treatment, such as chemotherapy.
Some people take longer than others to recover from their operation. If you have any problems, you may find it helpful to talk to someone who is not directly involved with your illness.
Our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 can talk to you and tell you how to contact a counsellor or local cancer support group.