What happens after surgery?

After your operation, the nurses will try to get you moving as soon as possible. This will help prevent blood clots and chest infections.

You may feel some pain and you may feel sick. Your nurses will be able to give you medicines to help with these symptoms. They will also give you fluids through tubes passed into your veins to help your recovery. These should be able to come out soon after surgery, when you’re eating and drinking normally again.

If you have a stoma, a stoma care nurse will usually come to see you on the first day after your operation. They will teach you how to look after it so you can feel confident taking care of it at home.

A stoma can take time to adjust to, both physically and emotionally. Your stoma nurse will help you cope if you’re having problems.

You should be able to go home 3–7 days after the operation and you’ll be given a check-up appointment with your doctor to talk about needing any further treatment.

After your operation

You’ll be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. This helps prevent complications such as chest infections and blood clots.

The nurses will encourage you to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises. A physiotherapist or nurse can explain these to you.

On the evening of the operation or on the following day, you will usually be helped to get out of bed or to sit up for a short time. After this, you will be encouraged to be up for longer periods and to begin walking around the ward.


Pain

You will have some pain and discomfort after your operation. This can be controlled with painkillers. If you feel sick or are in pain, tell the nurses. They can give you medicines to relieve sickness. You may need to have your dose or type of painkiller changed.

You may be given a spinal block during the operation. This is an injection of long-lasting painkiller into the fluid around the spinal cord. It gives pain relief for up to 24 hours. Alternatively, you may have a continuous dose of painkiller into the spinal fluid through a fine tube and a pump. This is called an epidural.

Painkillers can also be given through a tube into a vein in your hand or arm (cannula). The tube is connected to a pump. This is called a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia). You can give yourself an extra dose of painkiller when you need it by pressing a button. The machine is set so you get a safe dose and can’t have too much.

Before you go home, your pain will be controlled by tablets. You’ll be given a prescription for painkillers you can take at home as needed.


Drips and drains

At first, you’ll be given fluids into a vein in your hand or arm. This is called a drip or intravenous infusion. Once you’re eating and drinking normally again, it can be removed.

You’ll usually have a tube put in during the operation to drain urine from your bladder (a catheter). This will be taken out once you’re eating and drinking normally and are able to walk to the toilet.

Some people may have a nasogastric tube. This is a tube that goes up the nose and down into the stomach. It’s used to remove fluid from the stomach until the bowel starts working again.

You may have a tube (drain) close to the operation wound to drain fluid away. A nurse will remove it after a few days, when fluid stops draining.


Eating and drinking

You will usually be able to eat and drink again soon after surgery. You may be given supplement drinks for a few days after surgery to help your recovery. We have more advice about your diet after bowel surgery.


Stoma

If you have a stoma, it will be swollen at first but will shrink to its final size within a few weeks. If you have a ‘loop’ stoma there may be a rod underneath the loop to support it. A nurse will usually take the rod out after a few days.

You will usually see a stoma care nurse on the first day after your operation. They will begin to teach you how to look after the stoma. Most people are able to manage by themselves within about 3–4 days. You may want to have your partner or a close relative with you while you’re taught how to care for your stoma. Then they will know how to help, if needed, when you are home.

You will continue to have support from a stoma care nurse after you go home.

Living with a stoma

Living with a stoma

Hear Pat talk about being diagnosed with rectal cancer, having a stoma and how she manages this in her daily life.

About our cancer information videos

Living with a stoma

Hear Pat talk about being diagnosed with rectal cancer, having a stoma and how she manages this in her daily life.

About our cancer information videos


Going home

Depending on the type of operation you’ve had, you’ll probably be ready to go home 3–7 days after surgery.

You’ll be given an appointment to attend an outpatient clinic for your post-operative check-up. At the appointment, your doctor will talk to you about whether you need to have any further treatment, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

If you have stitches, clips or staples in your wound, these are usually taken out 7–10 days after the operation. Your practice nurse can do this. If you can’t leave home, a district nurse can visit you.

If you have a stoma, the hospital will give you stoma supplies to go home with. After this, you will need to order supplies from your chemist or direct from a specialist supply company.

Your stoma care nurse can tell you about these. The Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association and the Colostomy Association also have details of companies. You’ll need a prescription from your GP to get stoma supplies. If you’re aged between 16 and 60, make sure that your doctor signs the form saying that you’re entitled to free prescriptions.


Sex life after surgery

Your surgeon or nurse will advise you on how long it takes to recover from the operation and when you can have sex again. For most people, this takes at least six weeks, and often longer.

People who have a stoma will often need time to adjust. Talking about your feelings with your stoma care nurse may help reduce your anxiety. We have more information on the effects surgery can have on your sex life.

We have more information on the effects surgery can have on your sex life.


Back to Surgery explained

Types of surgery for colon cancer

The type of operation you need will depend on the stage of the cancer and where it is in the colon.

What happens before the surgery?

A member of the surgical team will talk to you about your operation and make sure you understand what’s going to happen.

Bowel function after surgery

If you have problems with bowel function after surgery, talk to your surgeon or nurse. There are treatments that can help.

If you have a stoma

Adjusting to a stoma takes time but most people manage well with support from their stoma care nurse.

Follow-up care after surgery

You will have follow-up appointments after your surgery to check on your recovery and any new symptoms.