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Going home after surgery

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Read about how to cope when you go home after surgery for cancer. There is information about

 

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Going home after surgery 

How long you need to stay in hospital depends on the type of operation you had and how quickly you recover. You might find that you tire easily and need to rest during the day at first. It can take several weeks to a few months to fully recover from a major operation.

If you have a dressing over your wound, your ward nurse arranges for a district nurse or a nurse at your GP surgery to change it. They tell you if you need to have any stitches or clips taken out and where you can have this done. 

When you go home, things to look out for include

  • wound infection – tell your doctor or nurse if you have any redness in the area, heat and soreness around the wound or if you feel unwell and have a high temperature
  • bruising – this can look alarming but gradually lessens over the following days and weeks
  • pain – it is natural to have some pain after surgery but it can usually be well controlled with painkillers
  • blood clots can develop after surgery if you are not moving around as much as usual – tell your doctor or nurse if you have a hot, red and sore area in your leg or breathlessness

When you leave hospital, your doctors and nurses tell you what to expect. Remember that you can ask them any questions if you are worried. You should know about 

  • how to care for your wound
  • any medicines you need to take
  • how active you can be
  • when you can drive or start any activities

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Surgery section

 

 

Recovering from surgery

How long you need to stay in hospital depends on the type of operation you had and how quickly you recover.

You need to give yourself time to get over the surgery. You might find that you tire easily and need to rest during the day at first. It can take several weeks to a few months to fully recover from a major operation.

If you have a dressing over your wound, your ward nurse may arrange for a district nurse to come to your home to change it. Or you might be able to go to the GP surgery. The nurse tells you if you need to have any stitches or clips taken out. They also tell you whether you can have this done at the hospital or GP surgery.

Your nurse tells you whether to phone the hospital or your GP if you have any problems when you are at home.

 

Possible problems

Many people get well very quickly after their operation but some people may have one or more of the following problems.

  • wound problems
  • bruising
  • pain
  • blood clots

Wound problems

Infection can develop in the wound. If you have an infection, the wound area may be red, hot and sore. You might also feel unwell and have a temperature. Let your doctor know as soon as possible. They will give you antibiotics. You might have the antibiotics through a drip or as tablets. 

Sometimes blood or tissue fluid collects internally around the operation area and causes swelling. This is called a seroma or haematoma. Any fluid that collects needs to be drained. The doctor or nurse does this by putting in a needle or drainage tube.

Bruising

You might have bruising around the operation area. This can look alarming but it usually goes away slowly over a few days or weeks. 

Pain

It is natural to have some pain after surgery but this is usually well controlled with painkillers. You need to take painkillers regularly as prescribed to keep the pain under control. If you wait until you get pain before taking the painkillers it can be harder to control it. Let your doctor or nurse know if your pain is not controlled or is getting worse.

Blood clots

Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, DVT) are a possible complication of having surgery because you might not move about as much as usual. Clots can block the normal flow of blood through the veins. Let your doctor or specialist nurse know if you have an area in your leg that is hot, red and sore.

There is a risk that a blood clot can become loose and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing a blockage there (a pulmonary embolism). Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you feel breathless. 

To prevent clots it is important to do the leg exercises that you were taught by your nurse or physiotherapist. You also have medicines given as an injection just under the skin. After some types of operation, you might need to carry on having the injections for 4 weeks. Before you go home your nurse might teach you to do these injections yourself. Or a district nurse might come to your home to do them.

 

Questions to ask

Before you leave hospital the doctors and nurses tell you what to expect. 

You might want to ask the following questions

  • Does the wound dressing need to be changed and who will do it?
  • Do I need to have stitches or clips taken out or do they dissolve?
  • Can I have a bath or shower?
  • Can I eat a normal diet?
  • What medicines do I need to take?
  • Do I need painkillers?
  • How active can I be – for example can I lift, do housework, go to the gym?
  • Are there any exercises I need to do?
  • When can I start driving again?
  • When can I go back to work?
  • When can I have sex again?
  • When do I need to come back for a check up?
  • Who can I contact if I have a problem?
 

For more information

Find out about

Your cancer type

Cancer and pain control

Coping with cancer emotionally

Coping with cancer physically

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Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday).

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Updated: 12 April 2016