After pelvic exenteration

Recovery after pelvic exenteration may take some time – you will have support adjusting to changes.

Recovery from pelvic exenteration

After the operation you will be in an intensive care or high-dependency unit for the first few days. You will probably stay in hospital for 2 to 3 weeks.

Recovery from pelvic exenteration takes a long time. Build up your activities slowly and only do as much as you feel able to. Your surgeon or specialist nurse can tell you how long to wait before doing certain activities. It may take several months after surgery to recover. Over time, you will feel stronger and have more energy.

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Drips and drains

When you wake up after the operation, you will have dressings on your tummy (abdomen). You may also have dressings on the area between the genitals and back passage. Your nurse will give you advice about how to cope with your dressings and wounds.

You may also have:

  • A drip going into a vein (intravenous infusion)

    This is used to give you food and fluids until you can eat and drink again, and may also be used to give you painkillers and antibiotics.

  • A fine tube going into your back (epidural)

    This is used to give you painkillers.

  • A fine tube that passes down your nose and into your stomach (nasogastric tube)

    This is to allow any fluids in the stomach to be removed, to stop you feeling sick.

  • One or more drainage tubes from your wound

    These drain fluid or blood and are removed when the amount of fluid has reduced enough.

  • Bags covering a colostomy or urostomy, or a tube coming from a continent urinary diversion

    This will depend on which you have.

If you have had vaginal reconstruction you will also have drains and bandages on the part of the body that tissue was taken from.

Controlling pain

You will have painkillers for a few weeks after the operation.

When you first wake up, you will have painkillers into a vein (intravenously) or into the space around your spinal cord (epidural).

The painkillers are usually given continuously through a pump. The pump may have a hand control with a button you can press. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). It gives you more control.

You press the button when you need more painkillers. It is fine to press the button whenever you need it. It is designed so you cannot give yourself too much. It is important to let the doctors or nurses know if you are still in pain. They can increase the dose or change the painkillers.

When you are ready to go home, your pain will be controlled with tablets. A nurse will give you tablets to take home.

We have more information about painkillers

Starting to move around

After your operation, you will be encouraged to start moving around. The day after your operation, your nurses will help you get out of bed and sit in a chair.

If you are in bed, it is important to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises.

A physiotherapist will show you gentle exercises and give you advice on how and when to start walking. You will find it easier to move around when all your drips and drains have been removed.

Looking after yourself at home

You will probably stay in hospital for 2 to 3 weeks. The hospital nurses will tell you who will help you with your wound when you go home. You will also get support from a stoma nurse.

You will have injections every day for a few weeks. This is to thin the blood, which reduces the risk of blood clots. 

The hospital nurses will show you how to inject yourself, so you can do them at home. If you are not able to inject yourself, they will show a family member or friend how to do it. Or they can arrange a district nurse to do it for you.

Talk to your surgeon or specialist nurse if you have any worries about recovering. You may have questions about:

  • going back to work
  • driving
  • housework
  • sports or other activities.

You may find it takes several months after surgery to recover. As time goes on, you will start to feel stronger and have more energy.