What happens before surgery for rectal cancer?

If you smoke, try to give up or cut down before your operation. This will help reduce your risk of chest problems, such as a chest infection. It will also help your wound to heal after the operation. Your GP can give you advice and support to help you give up smoking. You may find it helpful to read our information about giving up smoking.

You will go to a pre-assessment clinic for tests to check you are fit for the operation. These may include blood tests, a blood pressure check and a recording of your heart (ECG).

For some types of bowel surgery, you may need to follow a special diet or take some medicine to empty your bowels beforehand. For example, you may need to take a laxative for a few days before the operation. You will also be asked to not eat or drink for a period of time on the day of the operation. Your doctor or nurse will advise you about this.

Before the operation, you will usually be given antibiotics to prevent infection. You may have them as an injection or tablets.

You will meet a member of the surgical team to discuss the operation. If you are going to have a stoma after the operation, you will also meet a stoma care nurse who will explain what is involved. This is a good time to share any questions or concerns you have about the operation. If you think you may need help when you go home after surgery, for example because you live alone or care for someone else, tell your nurse as soon as possible. It will help them to make arrangements in plenty of time.

Some hospitals follow an enhanced recovery programme, which aims to reduce the time you spend in hospital and speed up your recovery. It also involves you more in your own care. For example, you will be given information about diet and exercise before surgery. You may be given supplement drinks to take too.

Any arrangements needed for you to go home will also be organised for you. Your doctor will tell you if an enhanced recovery programme is suitable for you and if it is available.

You will usually be admitted to hospital on the morning of the operation. You will be given elastic stockings (TED stockings) to wear during the operation and for some time afterwards. This is to prevent blood clots in your legs.

Back to Surgery explained

What happens after surgery?

Your specialist nurse will help you recover after surgery. You will probably be ready to go home after three to seven days.

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.