What happens after surgery?

After surgery for bowel cancer, you will 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.


It is normal to 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. Or 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 (a 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 will be given a prescription for painkillers you can take at home as needed.

Drips and drains

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

You will usually have a tube put in during the operation to drain urine from your bladder (a catheter). This will be taken out once you are 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 is used to remove fluid from the stomach until the bowel starts working again.

You may have a tube 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, to help your recovery.

Going home after surgery

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

You will 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 to 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 Support Group and the Colostomy Association also have details of companies. You will need a prescription from your GP to get stoma supplies. If you are aged between 16 and 60, make sure your doctor signs the form saying that you are entitled to free prescriptions.

Bowel function after surgery

After surgery for bowel cancer, the way your bowel works may change. If you have problems with bowel function, there are treatments that can help.

Managing a stoma

A stoma is an external opening that allows faeces or urine to leave the body through the stoma into a bag. Having a stoma is a big change to your body, whether it is temporary or permanent. It can take time to adjust to. We have more information about about managing a stoma.

Follow-up care after surgery

Usually a couple of weeks after your operation you will see your surgeon for a follow-up appointment. They will examine you and check your wound to make sure you are recovering well.

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