What happens after surgery?

How quickly you recover depends on the type of operation you have and the extent of the surgery. You will be encouraged to move about as soon as you feel able.

Your nurse will take care of any drips and drains you have. They will check your wound and dressing. Let your doctor and nurse know if your wound shows any signs of infection.

It’s normal to feel some pain or discomfort for a few days after surgery. Your doctor or nurse can give you painkillers to help with this.

After laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, you can usually go home 1–4 days later. If you had an abdominal hysterectomy you may be ready to go home 2–8 days later. Before going home the nurse will talk to you about:

  • physical activity
  • hygiene
  • sex
  • early menopause
  • possible long-term complications.

You’ll be given an appointment to come back to the outpatient clinic to see the surgeon. They will check your wound and talk about the operation results. They will advise you if you need further treatment.

After your operation

How quickly you’ll recover will depend on the type of operation you have and the extent of the surgery. If you’re in an enhanced recovery programme, you’ll be encouraged to get out of bed on the evening of the operation, if possible. Your drip, which gives fluids into your vein, will be removed soon after surgery and you’ll be able to start drinking and eating again.


Back in the ward

After your operation, you’ll be given fluids into a vein in your hand or arm. This is called a drip or an intravenous infusion. Once you’re eating and drinking normally again, it’s taken out.

You’ll usually have a tube (catheter), which is put in during the operation, to drain urine from your bladder. This can be taken out a few hours after your surgery, but in some people it may need to stay in for longer. If you have a wound drain (a fine tube in the wound draining fluid into a small bottle), it’s usually taken out after a few days.


Pain

After your operation, you’ll have some pain and discomfort, which should be controlled with painkillers. Depending on the extent of your surgery, you may need a strong painkiller for the first day or two after your operation.

You may be given painkillers as injections into a muscle (given by the nurses), or through a pump known as a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump. The pump is attached to a fine tube (cannula), which is placed in a vein in your arm. It allows you to release painkillers directly into your blood by pressing a button. The machine is set so you always get a safe dose and can’t have too much.

You may be given painkillers through an epidural infusion for the first few days. A fine tube is inserted in your back, into the space just outside the membranes surrounding your spinal cord. A local anaesthetic and other painkilling drugs are given by infusion (drip) into this space using an electronic pump.

The drugs work by numbing the nerves in the operation area, giving you continuous pain relief. It’s important to let the nurses or doctor know if your painkillers aren’t working for you. They can increase the dose or prescribe a different painkiller.

Painkillers can cause constipation, so you may be offered laxatives. Tell your nurse if you have any problems going to the toilet.

‘If something doesn’t feel right, go to your doctor immediately. They’ll be happy to see and help you. It’s better to catch something early, than let it get hold.’ Joan

Joan


Your wound

You’ll have a dressing covering your wound, which may be left undisturbed for the first few days. After this, you’ll usually have the dressings changed if there’s any leakage from the wound. If necessary, you can have any stitches or staples removed after you’ve gone home. This will be done by a district nurse or at your GP surgery. Always let your doctor know if your wound becomes hot, painful or starts to leak fluid – these are signs of infection.


Getting moving

After your operation, you’ll be encouraged to start moving about as soon as possible. This is important for your recovery as it helps prevent chest infections and blood clots. If you have to stay in bed, the nurses will encourage you to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises. A physiotherapist or nurse can help you do these exercises.


Going home

If you’ve had laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, you can usually go home 1–4 days after your operation. You may be ready to go home between 2–8 days after an abdominal hysterectomy. Your nurse will give you advice on looking after yourself so that your wound heals and you recover well.

You’ll be given an appointment to come back to the outpatient clinic to see the surgeon. They will examine you and check the wound. You’ll also be given information about the results of the operation and advised if you need further treatment.


When you get home

How quickly you recover will depend on the operation you’ve had. It’s important to take things easy for a while. Try to get plenty of rest and eat well. If you’re having any problems, it’s important to contact your doctor or specialist nurse.


Physical activity

You’ll be advised to avoid strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting for about three months after a hysterectomy and 6 weeks after laparoscopic surgery. Your physiotherapist or specialist nurse will give you advice about this. Do some light exercise, such as walking, that you can gradually increase. This will help you build up your energy and help you to feel better. 

Some women find driving uncomfortable after their operation so it’s probably a good idea to wait a few weeks. Some insurance policies give specific time limits and you may need to check this with your insurance company. Don’t drive unless you feel you have full control of the car.

‘It’s important to not overdo things. I took things slowly. To start with, that was a walk to the end of the road and I quickly built up strength.’ Daloni

Daloni


Hygiene

Try to have a shower or bath every day to keep your wound clean. It’s common to have a reddish brown vaginal discharge for up to six weeks after a hysterectomy. Use sanitary pads rather than tampons to reduce the risk of infection.


Sex

Your surgeon will usually advise you not to have sex for at least six weeks after your operation. This allows the wound to heal properly. After that, you’ll be able to return to your usual sex life. But it’s not unusual to need more time before you feel ready, especially if you’re having other treatment as well. We have more information about sex after treatment for womb cancer that you may find helpful.


Early menopause

For younger women who haven’t reached the menopause, a hysterectomy and removing the ovaries will cause the menopause. This means you will get menopausal symptoms. We have more information about the menopause and its symptoms.


Possible long-term complications

Most women have no long-term complications after surgery. But having other treatments as well as surgery may increase the risk of problems. Rarely, women have bladder or bowel problems after a hysterectomy because of damage to the nerves during the operation. If you have had the pelvic lymph nodes removed, there’s a risk of developing swelling (lymphoedema) in one or both legs. This is a build up of lymph fluid in the tissues.

Lymphoedema isn’t common, but if you have radiotherapy as well as surgery there’s more risk. We have more information about lymphoedema and how you can try to reduce the risk of getting it. 


Getting support

It’s not unusual to feel anxious after surgery. You may feel your recovery is taking longer than you expected or you may be worried about having further treatment. It’s often helpful to talk about your feelings with your family and friends. Your nurse specialist, our cancer support specialists or some organisations can also give you support. You can contact our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 to talk, or for information about local support groups.

Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for womb cancer

Surgery is the main treatment for womb cancer. There are different types of surgery that may be used.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.