What happens 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.

You will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. While you are in bed, it is important to move your legs regularly and do deep-breathing exercises. This is to help prevent chest infections and blood clots. A physiotherapist may show you how to do these exercises. You may also have daily injections of a blood-thinning drug to reduce the risk of blood clots. If you have had lymph nodes removed from your groin, you will be encouraged 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 the operation. 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 looking after yourself so that your wound heals and you recover well. How quickly you recover will depend on the operation you have had. It is important to take things easy for a while. Try to get plenty of rest and eat well. If you are having 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. A nurse will usually take this out as soon as you are eating and drinking normally.

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

You will have a tube (urinary 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, but this can be controlled with painkillers. It is important to let your doctor or nurse know as soon as possible if the pain is not controlled. They can change your painkillers.

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

  • By injection.
  • Through an epidural. This is a small, thin tube in your back that goes into the space around your spinal cord. An epidural will give 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. It is fine to press the handset whenever you have pain. The pump is designed so that you cannot give yourself too much painkiller.

It is important to tell the nurses or doctor if you are still in pain. They can increase the dose or prescribe a different painkiller.

Looking after your wound

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

Wound infections can be a complication of the surgery. Possible signs of wound infection include:

  • heat (the wound feels hot to touch)
  • 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. See your GP if you have problems after being discharged from hospital.

Blood-thinning injections

Some women will be given a supply of daily blood-thinning injections to take home. A nurse will show you how to inject yourself. If you are not able to inject yourself, they will show a relative or friend how to do this. Or they will arrange for a district nurse to do it for you.

Vaginal care

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

  • becomes bright red
  • is heavy
  • smells unpleasant
  • contains clots.

Your doctor or nurse will advise you to have a shower daily. They will also advise you not to have penetrative sex or put anything in your vagina (such as tampons) for about 6 weeks after your surgery. 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.

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

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

Physical activity

You will be advised 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 light exercise every day, such as walking. You can slowly increase this. It will help you build up your energy levels and feel better.

Driving

Some women 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 start driving again. 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 women have no long-term complications after surgery. But having other treatments as well as surgery may increase the risk of problems.

If you have had the 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.

We have more information about lymphoedema.

Getting support

Many women experience low mood about 3 days after surgery. This may last for 24 to 48 hours. It is a normal reaction to a stressful event.

It is not unusual to feel anxious when you go home after your operation. 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.

How we can help

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