A hernia is a bulge caused by a part of the inside of the body, such as the bowel, pushing through a weakness in the muscle or tissue wall. Most hernias do not need to be treated.

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a bulge caused by a part of the inside of the body, such as the bowel, pushing through a weakness in the muscle or tissue wall.

Usually, your muscles hold your bowel and other organs in place. But after surgery, the area around the operation scar or stoma may become weaker and a hernia can develop. Hernias are less common after keyhole surgery than after open surgery.

What are the symptoms of a hernia?

The main symptom of a hernia is often an ache or bulge in your tummy area (abdomen) or under the skin around a stoma (parastomal hernia). It may not be there all the time. You may notice it when you cough, sneeze or strain your tummy muscles. You may be able to push it back into place, or it may go away when you lie down.

Always see your doctor if you think you may have a hernia. Some people may worry that the swelling is linked to the cancer. Your doctor will examine you by feeling around the area. This will help them to find out what may be causing the bulge.

Sometimes, your doctor may arrange a CT scan or an ultrasound scan to give a picture of the hernia.

Sometimes a hernia can stop the blood supply to the tissue, or cause a blockage in the bowel. When this happens, the hernia needs to be treated as soon as possible.

You should call a doctor straight away if you have the following symptoms:

  • severe pain
  • vomiting
  • difficulty passing wind
  • difficulty emptying your bowels.

Reducing your risk of getting a hernia

You can reduce your risk of developing a hernia by:

It is important to get advice before you start becoming more active. Always check with your doctor if you are recovering from cancer treatment or surgery.

Your cancer doctor, GP or specialist nurse can tell you what type of exercise is most appropriate for you. You can also get support from a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist.

Treating a hernia

Most hernias do not need to be treated, especially if they are small and not causing any problems. Your doctor or nurse may advise you about lifestyle changes that could help, such as keeping to a healthy weight.

A hernia can also be treated with surgery. The surgeon usually uses a piece of mesh to repair the tissue wall. Your doctor can tell you if this is suitable for you. It is important to understand the benefits and risks before you decide.

If an operation is not right for you, there are also specially designed hernia support garments you can wear. It is important that the size and fit are correct, so ask your doctor, specialist nurse or stoma care nurse for advice.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our hernia information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Laparoscopic surgery for inguinal hernia repair. Technology appraisal guidance (TA83). Published September 2004. Reviewed February 2016. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta83 [accessed January 2021].  

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Reinforcement of a permanent stoma with a synthetic or biological mesh to prevent a parastomal hernia. Interventional procedures guidance (IPG654). Published 26 June 2019. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ipg654 [accessed January 2021].      

  • 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: 01 July 2021
Next review: 01 July 2024

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

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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