What happens after surgery for colon cancer?

After your operation, the nurses will try to get you moving as soon as possible. This will help prevent blood clots and chest infections.

You may feel some pain and you may feel sick. Your nurses will be able to give you medicines to help with these symptoms. They will also give you fluids through tubes passed into your veins to help your recovery. These should be able to come out soon after surgery, when you’re eating and drinking normally again.

If you have a stoma, a stoma care nurse will usually come to see you on the first day after your operation. They will teach you how to look after it so you can feel confident taking care of it at home.

A stoma can take time to adjust to, both physically and emotionally. If you are having problems, your stoma nurse will help you cope.

You should be able to go home three to seven days after the operation. You will be given a check-up appointment with your doctor to talk about whether you need any further treatment.

After your operation

You will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. This helps prevent complications, such as chest infections and blood clots. The nurses will encourage you to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises. A physiotherapist or nurse can explain these to you.

On the evening of the operation or on the following day, you will usually be helped to get out of bed or to sit up for a short time. After this, you will be encouraged to be up for longer periods and to begin walking around the ward.


Pain

It is normal to have some pain and discomfort after your operation. This can be controlled with painkillers. If you feel sick or are in pain, tell the nurses. They can give you medicines to relieve sickness. You may need to have your dose or type of painkiller changed.

You may be given a spinal block during the operation. This is an injection of long-lasting painkiller into the fluid around the spinal cord. It gives pain relief for up to 24 hours. Or you may have a continuous dose of painkiller into the spinal fluid through a fine tube and a pump. This is called an epidural.

Painkillers can also be given through a tube into a vein in your hand or arm (a cannula). The tube is connected to a pump. This is called a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia). You can give yourself an extra dose of painkiller when you need it by pressing a button. The machine is set so you get a safe dose and can’t have too much.

Before you go home, your pain will be controlled by tablets. You will be given a prescription for painkillers you can take at home as needed.


Drips and drains

At first, you will be given fluids into a vein in your hand or arm. This is called a drip or intravenous infusion. Once you are eating and drinking normally again, it can be removed.

You will usually have a tube put in during the operation to drain urine from your bladder (a catheter). This will be taken out once you are eating and drinking normally and are able to walk to the toilet.

Some people may have a nasogastric tube. This is a tube that goes up the nose and down into the stomach. It is used to remove fluid from the stomach until the bowel starts working again.

You may have a tube close to the operation wound to drain fluid away. A nurse will remove it after a few days, when fluid stops draining.


Eating and drinking

You will usually be able to eat and drink again soon after surgery. You may be given supplement drinks for a few days, to help your recovery.


Going home

Depending on the type of operation you have had, you’ll probably be ready to go home three to seven days after surgery.

You will be given an appointment to attend an outpatient clinic for your post-operative check-up. At the appointment, your doctor will talk to you about whether you need to have any further treatment, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

If you have stitches, clips or staples in your wound, these are usually taken out 7 to 10 days after the operation. Your practice nurse can do this. If you can’t leave home, a district nurse can visit you.

If you have a stoma, the hospital will give you stoma supplies to go home with. After this, you will need to order supplies from your chemist or direct from a specialist supply company. Your stoma care nurse can tell you about these. The Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Support Group and the Colostomy Association also have details of companies. You will need a prescription from your GP to get stoma supplies. If you are aged between 16 and 60, make sure your doctor signs the form saying that you’re entitled to free prescriptions.

Back to Surgery explained

Bowel function after surgery

If you have problems with bowel function after surgery, talk to your surgeon or nurse. There are treatments that can help.

If you have a stoma

Adjusting to a stoma takes time but most people manage well with support from their stoma care nurse.