What happens after surgery?

When you wake up after surgery you will probably still be very drowsy. You may not remember much about the first few hours. You may have some tubes attached to your body, such as a drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you’re able to eat and drink normally. Always let the nurses know if you’re in pain or feel sick. 

When you’re fully awake, the ward staff will help you get up and move about, which will help you to recover quicker.

Most women are able to go home 3–7 days after their operation. This will depend on the operation you had and how quickly you recover.

You can usually have the stitches on your wound removed after about seven days. A nurse can do this at your home. So that it can heal properly, you shouldn’t have sex for at least six weeks after the operation.

This can be a difficult time if the operation has affected your fertility (ability to get pregnant). Your clinical nurse specialist or our cancer support specialists can help support you.

After your operation

When you wake up after surgery you will probably feel quite drowsy. You may not remember much about the first couple of hours after you wake up. A nurse will take your blood pressure regularly. Depending on the type of operation, you may have some tubes attached to your body. If you had a small operation, you may not have any tubes at all.

You may have some of the following, but not everyone will need all of these:

  • A drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking normally.
  • A tube (drain) in your wound to drain extra fluid into a small bottle. This is usually removed after a few days.
  • A small tube (catheter) in your bladder that drains urine into a collection bag. It is usually removed when you start walking around.
  • A tube going up the nose and into the stomach (naso-gastric tube) to remove fluid from the stomach until the bowel starts working again.

Pain

You may have some pain after surgery, but this will be controlled with painkillers. You may have painkillers:

  • as tablets
  • as injections
  • through a tube into a vein in your hand or arm (cannula), which is connected to a pump
  • as a continuous dose into the spinal fluid through a fine tube and a pump (epidural).

The pain control you need will depend on the type of operation you’ve had. Always let the nurse know if you are still in pain.

Painkillers occasionally make it difficult to have a bowel motion (constipation). If your bowels aren’t moving, let your nurses know. They can give you medicines to help them move more regularly.

After an APR, it may be uncomfortable to sit down. This will improve as the wound heals.

Moving around

After your operation, you’ll be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. Even if you have to stay in bed, it’s important to do regular leg movements and deep-breathing exercises. A physiotherapist or nurse will explain these exercises to you.

To reduce the risk of blood clots, you will wear special stockings. You may also be given injections under the skin of a drug (heparin) that prevents blood clots.

Feeling sick or being sick

The nurse will give you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) injections or drugs to control any sickness. If you still feel sick, tell the nurse looking after you.

Wound care

Your wounds may be closed with stitches, clips or staples. They are usually removed after you go home by a practice nurse at your GP surgery. Some surgeons use dissolving stitches that don’t need to be removed.

Sometimes your surgeon may use a flap of tissue to close the wound, instead of stitches or clips. This is more likely if you have already had radiotherapy. If your doctors used a flap of tissue to close your wound, you will need to lie on your side for 3 to 4 days after your operation. This reduces pressure on your wound and helps it heal.

You will be able to sit on your bottom for five minutes at first.

As things improve, you slowly increase this amount of time.

Your doctor will give you advice about how often to change position when sitting.

You may be given antibiotics to help prevent any wound infection. While you are in hospital and after you go home, tell your nurse or doctor straight away if your wound:

  • becomes hot
  • becomes painful
  • bleeds
  • leaks any fluids.


Pain

It is normal to have some pain or discomfort for a few days after surgery. But this can be controlled with painkillers. It is important to let your doctor or nurse know as soon as possible if the pain is not controlled, so that they can change your painkillers.

Immediately after your operation you may have strong painkillers. You may be given painkillers through one of the following straight after your operation:

  • By injection into a muscle – The nurses will do this for you.
  • An epidural – This is a small, thin tube in your back that goes into the space around your spinal cord. An epidural will give you continuous pain relief.
  • A patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA pump) – The pump is attached to a fine tube (cannula), in a vein in your arm. You control the pump using a handset that you press when you need more of the painkiller. It is fine to press the handset whenever you have pain. The pump is designed so that you cannot give yourself too much painkiller

When you no longer need strong painkillers, you will be given milder painkillers as tablets. You may be given a supply to take home. Tell your nurse or doctor if you are still in pain, so they can adjust the dose or give you a different painkiller.


Wind and constipation

Some women have difficulty opening their bowels or have uncomfortable wind for a few days after the operation.

Tell the nurses if you have this. They can give you medicines to relieve discomfort and constipation. Constipation and wind usually get better once you’re up and moving around more. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating high-fibre foods can also help ease constipation.

We have more information to help you cope with wind and constipation.


Your wound

You usually have staples or stitches removed after about seven days. A district nurse or practice nurse can do this after you go home. Sometimes dissolving stitches are used.


Going home

Most women are able to go home 3–7 days after their operation. This will depend on the operation you had and how quickly you recover.

Before you go home you’ll be given an appointment for the outpatient clinic to see the surgeon and specialist nurse. They check your wound is healing properly and you are recovering well.

They will also tell you more about the results of your operation and any further treatment you might need. This is a good opportunity to ask questions and to discuss any problems. If you have any difficulties or worries before your appointment, phone your ward nurses or hospital doctor.


Physical activity

You’ll still be recovering for some time after you go home and will need to take things easy for several weeks. It can take three months or more to fully recover, and longer if you’re having chemotherapy as well.

Avoid strenuous exercise or heavy lifting for at least 12 weeks. Your physiotherapist or specialist nurse will give you advice about this.

Build up your energy levels gradually. Taking regular walks is a good way of doing this. You can increase the amount you do as you feel able.

We have more information about how physical activity can help with your recovery after treatment.


Driving

How soon you can drive will depend on the extent of the surgery you’ve had and how quickly you recover. You’ll need to feel comfortable wearing a seatbelt and be able to carry out an emergency stop if necessary. Some insurance policies give specific time limits, so it’s a good idea to contact your insurance company to check you’re covered before driving again.


Sex

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 will be able to get back to your usual sex life. But it is not unusual to need more time before you feel ready, especially if you are having other treatments as well.


Early menopause

If you were still having periods before your operation, having your ovaries removed will bring on an early menopause. This may cause physical changes such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. We have more information about menopause.


Fertility

Fertility is a very important part of many people’s lives, and not being able to have children can seem especially hard when you already have cancer to cope with. It can help to discuss your feelings with a partner, relative or close friend, or with your specialist nurse. Your specialist nurse or GP can usually arrange counselling for you.

We have more information about cancer and fertility for women.

Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for ovarian cancer

There are different types of surgery used to treat ovarian cancer. Your specialist doctor will talk to you about these.