What happens after surgery?

Your recovery after surgery will depend on the type of operation you had.

Straight after surgery you may have a drip going into a vein. This will give you fluids until you are able to eat and drink again. It may also be used to give you painkillers and other medications. Once you are eating and drinking normally again, it is taken out. Tell your nurse if you are in pain or feel sick, so they can give you medicine to help.

The nurses will encourage you to move around as soon as possible. This will help you to recover more quickly.

The wound is closed using staples or stitches. If it feels hot or painful, bleeds or leaks fluid, let your doctor know straight away.

After your operation

Your recovery after surgery will depend on the type of operation you have.

After the operation, you will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. This can help reduce the risk of some problems.

Drips and drains

After your operation, you will have a drip going into a vein in the arm or neck (intravenous infusion). This will give you fluids until you are able to eat and drink again. It may also be used to give you painkillers and other medications. Once you are eating and drinking normally again, it is taken out.

You will usually have a tube (catheter) put in during the operation to drain urine (pee) from the bladder. This can be taken out a few hours after surgery. But some people may need it to stay in for longer.

You may have a fine tube draining fluid and blood from the wound. It will drain into a small bottle. A nurse will take it out after a few days.

Feeling sick (nausea)

Some people feel a bit sick for the first 24 hours after the operation. The nurse will give you anti-sickness injections or drugs to help control any sickness. If you still feel sick, tell your nurse.

Pain and discomfort

You will have some pain and discomfort after your operation. This can be controlled with painkillers. For the first day or two after your operation, you will usually have one of the following:

  • A pump attached to a needle in the arm. This gives painkillers into your bloodstream. You control the amount by pressing a button. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA).
  • An epidural. This gives painkillers directly into the spinal nerve system through a fine plastic tube in your back.

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.

You may still have some aches and twinges close to the scar for several weeks after surgery.

Moving around

Moving around helps you recover more quickly. And it reduces the risk of complications.

The nurses will encourage you to get up fairly soon after your operation. The ward staff will help you with this. And you may need some help to wash and go to the toilet. Once you are moving about more freely, you will be able to do more for yourself.

Doing leg and breathing exercises can also help reduce the risk of chest infections and blood clots. Your nurse or physiotherapist will teach you these exercises.

You may be given a drug that helps prevent blood clots. This is called an anti‑coagulant. A nurse will inject it under the skin, usually in the tummy (abdomen). The injections usually continue for 28 days. A nurse will show you, or a relative or friend, how to do the injection for when you go home. They will also give you advice about how to dispose of the needles safely. Sometimes a district nurse or practice nurse can give you the injections.

Wound care

The wound is closed using staples or stitches. The staples are removed 7 to 10 days after the operation. This can be done by a practice nurse at your GP surgery. The stitches are usually dissolvable, so they do not need to be removed.

It is important to let your nurse or doctor know straight away if your wound:

  • becomes hot or painful
  • starts to bleed or leak any fluids.

PICC lines and central lines playlist

Watch our short animated videos about having PICC lines and central lines put in.

PICC lines and central lines playlist

Watch our short animated videos about having PICC lines and central lines put in.


Possible complications of surgery

The most common complications after surgery are:

  • a wound infection
  • bleeding
  • a chest infection
  • a blood clot.

The nurses will monitor you for these. Let them know straight away if you feel unwell, have any bleeding, or notice swelling and redness in a limb. You should also tell them if you have symptoms of an infection, such as a cough or discharge from your wound.

After open surgery to the kidney, some people develop a bulge along their scar. Doctors call this an incisional hernia. It can happen because of weakness in the muscles around the scar. Let your doctor or nurse know if you develop a bulge around the scar.


Going home after surgery

How long you stay in hospital depends on the type of operation you have and how quickly you recover:

  • After keyhole surgery, most people go home after 2 to 5 days.
  • After an open operation, most people go home after 5 to 7 days.

It is common to feel more tired than usual for about 6 weeks after the operation. Most people feel fully recovered after about 12 weeks.

Your surgeon or nurse can tell you when you will be able to get back to doing everyday activities like shopping, driving, having sex, playing sport or going to work.

Before you leave hospital, you will be given an appointment for a check-up. This is usually about 6 weeks after your operation. It will be at an outpatient clinic. The appointment is a good time to talk about any problems you have after your operation.

After surgery you will have to take things slowly to build up your strength.

Christine, diagnosed with kidney cancer

Back to Surgery for kidney cancer

Surgery for kidney cancer

Surgery is the main treatment for kidney cancer. The operation you have will depend on the stage of the cancer.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.