Changes in how your bowel works

Most people have changes in how their bowel works after surgery for colon cancer.

You may find your bowel habits don’t go back to the same as they were before treatment. It may take at least a year for things to settle down. Over time, bowel symptoms usually become less troublesome. Most people find they get into a new routine that becomes normal for them.

If bowel problems don’t settle, there are many things that can be done to help. Your doctor or nurse can give you advice. They may also refer you to a specialist in bowel control problems for further assessment and treatment.

Changes after surgery

After bowel surgery your large bowel is shorter than before. This means bowel motions (stools) pass through more quickly. This often settles as your body adjusts.

Changes caused by a shorter bowel

You may find stools pass through the bowel more quickly and are softer and looser, or liquid. You may go to the toilet more often and more urgently.

Softer stools can be more difficult to pass out of the bowel completely. This can mean needing to go back to the toilet a few times after a bowel movement to finish passing the stool. Stools may be stickier. You may need to wipe around your back passage more after passing a stool. This can sometimes make the skin in the area sore.

Some people go between having loose stools and constipation. Or, you may feel bloated at times and have problems with wind.

Bile acid malabsorption

Bile acids help us to digest fats in our food. Sometimes surgery to the right side of the colon removes part of the bowel involved in reabsorbing bile acids. When bile acids cannot be absorbed it’s called malabsorption. This can cause sudden episodes of diarrhoea. We have information about how this is treated.

Problems with a stoma

If you had a stoma as part of your surgery, it can take some time to adjust. You may have loose stools, or go between loose stools and episodes of constipation. You may also be more aware of wind produced by your bowel. Some people find it difficult to predict when the stoma is going to be active.

Many of our suggestions for bowel function problems are also relevant to people with a stoma. We’ve also included other information specific to coping with a stoma where we think this may be helpful.

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