What happens after surgery?

You‘ll be encouraged to start moving about soon after your operation. If you have to stay in bed you’ll be shown how to do leg and breathing exercises.

Your nurse will take care of any drips or drains you have, and the dressings on your wounds. It’s normal to feel some pain or discomfort for a few days, but painkillers should help with this.

After a hysterectomy or trachelectomy, it’s common to have vaginal discharge for up to six weeks. You should avoid using tampons and having sex for six weeks.

You should avoid strenuous physical activity for about 6 weeks if you’ve had laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery or for three months if you’ve had surgery through a cut to your tummy.

Some women take longer to recover from surgery. Your clinical nurse specialist or our cancer support specialists can help support you.

It’s rare to have long-term complications from surgery for cervical cancer. Rarely women may have bladder or bowel problems or swelling in one or both legs. You should let your surgeon or nurse know if you have any problems.

In the ward

After your hysterectomy or trachelectomy you’ll be encouraged to start moving about as soon as possible. This is an essential part of your recovery. Even if you have to stay in bed, the nurses will encourage you to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises. You may be seen by a physiotherapist who can help you do the exercises. You’ll also be given injections of a drug to help prevent blood clots.

Drips and drains

After your operation you’ll be given fluids into a vein in your hand or arm, called a drip or an intravenous infusion. Once you’re eating and drinking normally again it’s taken out. You’ll usually have a tube (catheter), which is put in during the operation, to drain urine from your bladder. This can be taken out a few hours after your surgery but in some people it may need to stay in for longer. If you have a wound drain (a fine tube in the wound draining fluid that’s collecting into a small bottle) it’s usually taken out in a few days.


It’s normal to have some pain or discomfort for a few days after surgery, but this can be controlled effectively with painkillers. It’s important to let your doctor know as soon as possible if the pain isn’t controlled, so that your painkillers can be changed.

You may be given painkillers through an epidural for the first day after surgery. This is a small, thin tube that’s inserted in your back into the space just outside the membranes surrounding your spinal cord. An epidural will give you continuous pain relief.

Or you may have painkillers through a pump known as a patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA pump). A PCA pump will be attached to a fine tube (cannula), which is placed in a vein in your arm. You can control the pump yourself using a handset that you press when you need more of the painkiller. It’s fine to press the handset whenever you have pain, as the pump is designed so that you can’t give yourself too much painkiller. You will be shown how to use this type of pump.

Some painkillers can cause constipation. Let your nurse know if you have difficulty opening your bowels.

Your wound

You’ll have a dressing covering your wound, which may be left undisturbed for the first few days. After this, you’ll usually have the dressings changed if there’s any leakage from the wound. If necessary, you can have any stitches or staples removed after you’ve gone home. This will be done by a district nurse or at your GP surgery.

Always let your doctor know if your wound becomes hot, painful or starts to leak fluid as these are possible signs of infection.

Going home

Your hospital team will give you an idea about how long you might need to stay in hospital. You’ll probably be ready to go home about 3–8 days after an abdominal hysterectomy. If you’ve had laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery or a trachelectomy, you may be able to go home 2–4 days after your operation.

If you think you might have problems when you go home, for example if you live alone or have several flights of stairs to climb, let your nurse know when you are admitted to the hospital, so that they can arrange help.

Before you go home, you’ll be given an appointment to attend an outpatient clinic for your post-operative check-up. This may be posted to you after you have left hospital.

If you need to go home with a urinary catheter, the hospital team can arrange for a district nurse to visit you at home to check how things are.

You’ll be given instructions on how to look after yourself to make sure your wound heals and you recover well. It’s important that you follow the advice you’re given.

‘When I got home from my operation, I found just going up the stairs could be uncomfortable and tiring. But my family was there for support, so I got lots of rest.’

Understanding cervical cancer booklet

Vaginal care

If you have a hysterectomy, it’s common to have a vaginal discharge for up to six weeks afterwards. This is usually reddish-brown in colour. If the discharge becomes bright red, heavy, or contains clots, you should contact your doctor straight away.

To reduce the risk of getting an infection, you should use sanitary pads rather than tampons and have a shower or bath every day.

If you have a trachelectomy it’s normal to have a light reddish-brown vaginal discharge. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how long this discharge is likely to last. They’ll advise you to shower daily and not to have sex or place anything in your vagina (such as tampons) for about six weeks after your surgery. You should also avoid swimming. This is so the surgical area can heal properly and the risk of infection is reduced.


Your surgeon will usually advise you not to have sex for at least six weeks after your operation. This is to give your wound time to heal properly. After that you’ll be able to get back to your usual sex life. But it’s not unusual to need more time before you feel ready, especially if you’re having other treatments as well. We have more information about the female body and sex.

Physical activity

It’s important to avoid strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting for about three months if you’ve had your surgery through a cut to your tummy. If you’ve had laparoscopic surgery you should avoid heavy lifting and activities that involve excessive pushing, pulling or stretching for about six weeks. Your physiotherapist or nurse will be able to give you advice about physical activity.

Some women find it uncomfortable to drive for a few weeks after their surgery. It’s probably a good idea to wait a few weeks before you start driving again. Some insurance companies have guidelines about this, and it may be helpful to contact your own insurer.

Getting support

Some women take longer than others to recover from their operation. If you find you’re having problems, it may be helpful to talk to someone who is not directly associated with your illness. Your clinical nurse specialist or our cancer support specialists are always happy to talk to you. They may be able to put you in touch with a counsellor or a support group in your area, so you can discuss your experiences with other women who are in a similar situation.

Possible long-term complications of surgery

Most women will not have long-term complications after surgery for cancer of the cervix. However, if you have had radiotherapy or chemotherapy as well as surgery, you’re more likely to develop long-term complications.

Rarely, women may have bladder or bowel problems after a hysterectomy. This is because the nerves that control them may get damaged during the operation. To avoid these problems, surgeons try to not damage the nerves during surgery. This is known as nerve-sparing or nerve-preserving surgery.

If your lymph nodes have been removed, there’s a risk you will develop swelling (lymphoedema) in one or both legs. This is a build-up of lymph fluid that can’t drain away normally because the lymph nodes have been removed. It’s more likely to happen if you’ve had radiotherapy to the pelvic area as well as surgery. We have more information about lymphoedema.

If you develop any problems after your surgery, let your surgeon or nurse know, so that you can get the right kind of help.

Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for cervical cancer

You may have surgery to treat early-stage cervical cancer. There are three types of surgery that may be used.

Follow-up care after surgery

After surgery you have an appointment with your surgeon to check on your recovery and discuss the results of your operation.