Preparing for bowel cancer surgery

There are things you can do before bowel cancer surgery to help you prepare.

Before your operation

Before surgery, you will go to a pre-assessment clinic for tests to check you are fit for the operation. These may include blood tests, a blood pressure check and a recording of your heart (ECG).

Giving up smoking

If you smoke, try to give up or cut down before your operation. This will help reduce your risk of chest problems, such as a chest infection. It will also help your wound to heal after the operation. Your GP can give you advice and support to help you give up smoking.

Your diet before surgery

For some types of bowel surgery, you may need to follow a special diet or take some medicine, called a laxative. This is to empty your bowels before your surgery. For example, you may need to take a laxative for a few days before the operation. You will also be asked to not eat or drink for a few hours before the operation. Your doctor or nurse will advise you about this.

Before the operation, you will usually be given antibiotics to prevent infection. You may have them as an injection or tablets.

You will meet a member of the surgical team to discuss the operation. If you are going to have a stoma after the operation, you will also meet a stoma care nurse who will explain what is involved.

This is a good time to share any questions or concerns you have about the operation. If you live alone, or care for someone else, you may need help when you go home after surgery. Tell a nurse as soon as possible so they can help to make arrangements for you.

Enhanced Recovery Programmes

Some hospitals follow an enhanced recovery programme, which aims to reduce the time you spend in hospital and speed up your recovery. You will also be more involved in your own care. For example, you will be given information about diet and exercise before surgery. You may also be given nutritional supplement drinks.

Your hospital team will make any arrangements needed for you to go home. Your doctor will tell you if an enhanced recovery programme is suitable for you, and if it is available.

You will usually go into hospital on the morning of the operation. You will be given elastic stockings (TED stockings) to wear during the operation and for some time afterwards. This is to prevent blood clots in your legs.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 30 April 2020
Next review: 30 April 2023

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
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