Recovering after surgery

How quickly you recover from surgery for womb cancer will depend on the type of operation you have and the extent of the surgery.

Your nurses will encourage you to start moving around as soon as possible. This helps with your recovery. While you are in bed, it is important to move your legs regularly and do deep-breathing exercises. This helps prevent chest infections and blood clots. A physiotherapist may show you how to do these exercises. Your nurse may also give you daily injections of a blood-thinning drug to reduce the risk of blood clots. If you have had lymph nodes removed from your pelvis, they will encourage you to put your feet up when you are sitting. This helps to reduce leg swelling.

Going home after surgery

If you have laparoscopic or robotic surgery, you can usually go home later that day or the day after. If you have an abdominal hysterectomy, you can usually go home 2 to 8 days after the operation.

Your nurse will give you advice on your recovery, and how to care for your wounds. How quickly you recover will depend on the operation you had. It is important not to do too much for a while. Try to get plenty of rest, do gentle exercise and eat well. If you have any problems, it is important to contact your doctor or specialist nurse.

Drips and drains

You will have fluids into a vein in your hand or arm. This is called a drip or an intravenous (IV) infusion. Your nurse usually takes this out when you are eating and drinking normally.

Sometimes you may have a tube in your wound or tummy (abdomen) to drain excess fluid into a small drainage bag. The drain is usually removed after a few days.

You will have a tube (catheter) to drain urine from your bladder. It is usually taken out the day after your surgery.

Managing pain

It is normal to have some pain or discomfort for a few days after surgery. This can be controlled with painkillers.

Immediately after your operation you may have painkillers in the following ways:

  • By mouth (orally).
  • As an injection.
  • Through an epidural. This is a small, thin tube in your back that goes into the space around your spinal cord. It gives you continuous pain relief.
  • Through a patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA pump). The pump is attached to a fine tube (cannula) in a vein in your arm. You control the pump using a handset that you press when you need more of the painkiller.
  • Through a thin tube called a rectus catheter that your surgeon places in your tummy. You may have this kind of catheter if you have the cut downwards from your belly button to your tummy.
  • As a combination of some of the above.

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if the pain is not controlled. They can change your painkillers.

Looking after your wound

The surgeon closes your wound using clips, stitches or skin glue. Some types of stitches are absorbed by the body and do not need to be removed. If you have clips or stitches that need removed after you go home, a practice nurse at your GP surgery can do this. Your nurse will explain about your wound and how to care for it.

Sometimes people can develop an infection in their wound. Signs of wound infection include:

  • heat
  • redness
  • swelling
  • fluid coming from wound (especially if it is thick, brown, green or yellow)
  • feeling unwell
  • a fever or high temperature.

Tell your nurse or doctor if you get any of these symptoms, even after you go home.

Constipation

If you are having problems emptying your bowels (pooing) after surgery, tell your doctor or nurse. They can give you a laxative to help with this. See your GP if you have problems after being discharged from hospital.

Low mood

It is common to feel upset after the operation. This is often a reaction to:

  • the diagnosis of cancer
  • having the operation
  • being away from your usual support network.

These feelings may stop after a few days, or you may continue to feel this way. Tell your doctor or specialist nurse if you are not feeling better or if you begin to feel very low. You may need extra help and support.

Some hospitals have local support groups for people who have gynaecological cancers. You may find a support group helpful. Ask your nurse specialist if there is one in your hospital or local area.

You may want to talk about your feelings with an organisation that specialises in womb cancer. You could also join an online support group such as our Online Community. You can chat with other people who have womb cancer. Or you can just read the posts or blogs other people have written.

Blood-thinning injections

Your nurse may give you daily blood-thinning injections to take home. They will show you how to inject yourself. If you are not able to inject yourself, they will show a family member or friend how to. Or they will arrange for a district nurse to do it for you.

Vaginal care

After a hysterectomy, you may have some vaginal discharge for up to 6 weeks. This is usually a reddish-brown colour. Contact your doctor straight away if the discharge:

  • becomes bright red
  • is heavy
  • smells unpleasant
  • contains clots (lumps).

Your doctor or nurse will advise you to shower daily. They will also advise you that for the first 6 weeks after surgery, you should not:

  • have penetrative sex
  • put anything inside the vagina (such as tampons).

You should also avoid swimming. This will allow the surgical area to heal properly and reduce the risk of infection.

Sex

After 6 weeks, if your wounds have healed properly, you can usually safely:

  • have penetrative sex
  • use sex toys inside the vagina
  • use fingers inside the vagina.

You may need more time than this before you feel ready to have sex, especially if you are having other treatment as well.

If you have a laparoscopic hysterectomy, your surgeon or nurse may recommend waiting longer before having penetrative sex. This may be up to 12 weeks. This is because the wound at the top of the vagina can take longer to heal.

We have more information about how cancer and its treatments can affect your your sex life.

Physical activity

You doctor or nurse will advise you to avoid strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting for about:

  • 12 weeks after an abdominal hysterectomy
  • 6 weeks after laparoscopic or robotic surgery.

Your physiotherapist or specialist nurse will give you advice about this. Try to do some gentle exercise every day, such as walking. You can slowly increase how much you do. It will help you build up your energy levels and feel better.

Driving

You may find it uncomfortable to drive for a few weeks after the surgery. Ask your nurse or doctor for advice on when it will be safe for you to drive. Some insurance companies have guidelines about this. It is best to contact your insurer to check you are covered to drive.

Possible long-term complications

Most people do not have any long-term complications after surgery. But having other treatments as well as surgery may increase the risk of problems.

If you had your pelvic lymph nodes removed, there is a risk of developing swelling (lymphoedema) in one or both legs. This is a build-up of lymph fluid in the tissues. Lymphoedema is not common. But if you have radiotherapy as well as surgery, there is more risk.

Getting support

It is 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 is often helpful to talk about your feelings with your family and friends.

If you are worried about womb cancer and would like to talk to someone, we're here. You can:

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 Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical 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.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

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