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Having your operation for womb cancer

Women discussing womb cancer

This page tells you about having surgery for womb cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Before your operation

Before your operation, you may have tests to make sure you are fit enough for your anaesthetic and to make a good recovery. These may include blood tests, a chest X-ray and tests to check how well your lungs and heart are working.

You are likely to have an appointment at the pre assessment clinic 1 or 2 weeks before your surgery. This prepares you for your operation. You may meet several members of the multi disciplinary team, including a surgeon, anaesthetist and nurse. This is a good chance to ask any questions you have about your operation and what to expect afterwards. It is a good idea to write down your questions beforehand and take them with you.

You usually go into hospital the day before or morning of your operation.

After your operation

When you wake up, you are likely to have several tubes in place to give you fluids, drain the wound, drain your urine, and drain fluid from your stomach to stop you feeling sick. Your nurses will encourage you to get out of bed and sit in a chair as soon as possible after your surgery. This helps prevent blood clots and chest infections. Your nurse or physiotherapist will help you everyday with your breathing and leg exercises.

You may well have pain for the first week or so. Tell your doctor or nurse who will work with you to find the right painkiller for you. After surgery to the abdomen (tummy), the bowel usually stops working for a while and so you will not be able to eat or drink anything at first. But you will probably be eating and drinking normally again within a few days.

Getting over your surgery

After this type of surgery, you will need to rest at home for at least a month after you come out of hospital. When you are ready to leave hospital your nurse will advise you about caring for yourself at home and who to contact should you have any concerns.

Your first outpatient appointment is usually arranged for about 6 weeks after the date of your surgery.

 

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Before your operation

This section is about what to expect before your operation. You can find information on

Tests before your operation

Your surgeon will need to be sure you are fit enough for your anaesthetic and to make a good recovery. You may have had some of these general tests when your cancer was being diagnosed. If so, you may not need to have them again. You are most likely to have these tests in the outpatient department. But some hospitals do them when you come into hospital the day before your operation. The tests may include

  • Blood tests to check your general health and kidney function
  • A chest X-ray to check your lungs are healthy
  • An ECG to check your heart is healthy
  • Breathing tests (called lung function tests)
  • CT scan or MRI scan

Pre assessment clinic

You are likely to have an appointment at the pre assessment clinic about 1 or 2 weeks before your surgery. This is to prepare you for your operation. You may meet several members of your multi disciplinary team, including a surgeon, anaesthetist and nurse.

The surgeon will give you information about surgery, the benefits and possible risks, and what to expect afterwards. You may sign a consent form to agree to the operation during this appointment. The nurse will check your general health, weigh you and take your blood pressure, pulse and temperature. They may also take blood tests and arrange any other tests if needed. If you have any problems moving around, you may also see a physiotherapist. They can assess what help you may need and let the doctors know if there are any issues that may affect your recovery after surgery. 

This appointment is a good chance for you to ask any questions you have about the surgery. It is a good idea to write down your questions beforehand and take them with you. There are some suggestions for questions at the end of this section. Many people find the more they know about what is going to happen, the less frightening it will seem. 

Learning breathing and leg exercises

Your nurse or physiotherapist will teach you breathing and leg exercises. You can help yourself to get better by doing these exercises after your operation. You should do them as often as you are advised you need to. Breathing exercises will help to stop you getting a chest infection. And leg exercises will help to stop clots forming in your legs. These can happen when you are not moving around as much as you normally would. So your nurses will encourage you to get up and about as soon as possible after your operation. You will also wear special stockings after the operation to help prevent blood clots. And you may have small injections everyday, which thins the blood.

Below is a short video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery. Click on the arrow to watch it.

 



 

View a transcript of the video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery (opens in new window)

At the hospital

You usually go into hospital the day before or morning of your operation. If you have any more questions about your surgery the nurses can arrange for a member of the surgical team to come and talk to you again. You will sign the consent form for the operation if you didn't do it at the pre assessment clinic.

In some hospitals, your doctor may ask you to drink a special carbohydrate drink the evening before or morning of your operation. This is to give you energy and help you recover more quickly. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you need to stop eating or drinking before your operation.

You may have a drip (intravenous infusion) put into your arm before your surgery so that you can be given fluids. This makes sure you are not dehydrated before your operation. But if you have been eating and drinking normally, you may not need this.

Lastly, your nurse may shave your pubic hair to make sure the operation site is as clean as possible. This reduces the risk of an infection getting into your wound. You may have this done on the ward, or in the operating theatre after you have had your anaesthetic.

We have more information about what happens before your operation in another section of our website.

 

After your operation

When you wake up, you will have several different tubes in place. This can be a bit frightening. But it helps to know what they are all for. You may have

  • Drips (intravenous infusions) to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking again
  • One or more fine tubes (wound drains) coming out near your wound to drain away fluid that collects and so help your wound heal
  • A tube down your nose into your stomach (nasogastric tube) to drain it and stop you feeling sick
  • A tube into your bladder (catheter)

You will not be able to eat or drink at first. But as soon as you are fully awake you will be able to wet your mouth with sips of water. Your doctor or nurse will listen to your abdomen (tummy) with a stethoscope to see if your bowel is working properly – often it stops for a while after abdominal surgery. But you will probably be eating and drinking normally again within a couple of days or so.

You may have a blood pressure cuff on your arm when you first wake up. A small clip on your finger (called a pulse oximeter) measures your pulse and checks your oxygen levels. You may also have an oxygen mask on for a while. You'll have your blood pressure taken quite often for the first few hours after you come round from the anaesthetic. Your nurse will regularly check your urine output because it can help to show whether you are having too much fluid or are getting dehydrated.

You may have a couple of electric pumps attached to your drips. These control any medicines you are having through the drip, so it goes in at a steady rate.

If you have had a big operation you may wake up in intensive care or a high dependency recovery unit. This is nothing to worry about. These are places where you can have one to one nursing care. As soon as your doctors are sure you are recovering well, you will move back to the ward.

We have more information about what to expect immediately after your operation.

 

Painkillers

You may have some pain for the first week or so. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you feel any pain. Pain can usually be well controlled but they may need your help to find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly, so it is important to take them as your nurse or doctor advise.

When you first wake up, you may have a pump containing painkillers attached to your drip. You may have a hand control from the pump with a button to press to give yourself extra painkillers, as you need them. This is called patient controlled analgesia (PCA). Do use it whenever you need to. You can’t overdose because the machine is set to prevent that. If you need to press the button very often let your nurse know. They can arrange for you to have a higher dose of painkiller in the pump.

Some hospitals use painkillers through a drip into your spine for the first day or so after surgery. This is called an epidural and usually works very well. You may come back from theatre with the epidural already set up. You'll have a very fine tube taped to your back. This connects to a pump, which gives you a continuous dose of painkiller into the space around your spinal cord.

 

Your wound

You may have a wound that runs vertically, up and down your lower abdomen. This is called a mid line incision. It allows the surgeon good access to all parts of the abdomen so your surgeon can check the tissues around the womb thoroughly. Or you may have a wound that runs across your lower abdomen, from right to left. This is called a transverse incision. If you are overweight, this may be easier for the surgeon and will heal more easily.

If you are having surgery for stage 1 womb cancer you may have keyhole surgery. In this case, you may have about 3 or 4 small wounds in your abdomen where the surgical instruments and camera were put in.

The wound or incision sites will be covered up when you come round from the operation. They may be left covered for a couple of days. Then your nurse will change the dressings and clean the wound or incision sites. If you have wound drains, these will stay in until they stop draining fluid. Your nurse will change the bottles attached to them every day. Wound drains can usually come out about 2 to 7 days after your operation.

Your wound may be closed with dissolvable stitches which don't need to be removed. Other types of stitches or clips will stay in for at least 7 to 10 days and will then need to be taken out. The nurse at the GP surgery or a district nurse can usually remove them.

 

Getting up

For the first few days after surgery getting up and moving around may seem impossible. But moving about helps you to get better. You will need to start gradually. Your physiotherapist will visit every day after your operation to help with your breathing and leg exercises.

Your nurses will encourage you to get out of bed and sit in a chair as soon as possible, often the day after surgery. They will help you with all the drips and drains. Over the next couple of days, the tubes, bottles and bags will start to be taken out. Then it will be much easier to get around and you should begin to feel that you are making progress.

 

Recovering after you go home

You will need to rest for at least a month when you go home after this type of abdominal surgery. Your nurse will give you phone numbers of who to contact if you have any problems at home. Most people recover well from surgery, but your surgeon and nurse will talk to you about the possible problems after any surgery and what to do.

Your first outpatient appointment is usually arranged for about 6 weeks after the date of your surgery. Until this time, you will be advised not to

  • Do heavy housework, such as vacuuming
  • Carry heavy bags of shopping or washing
  • Drive

This is because all these activities put pressure on your abdominal muscles and skin. The skin has been cut during your surgery and stitched back together. It needs time to heal and it will take longer to get over your operation if you put too much strain on the area. You will gradually be able to increase the amount you can do. A short walk every day is a good idea. You will get a bit of fresh air, and you can gradually go further as you get your strength back. Do take it easy at first though – remember that however far you walk, you have to cover the same distance to get back home.

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Updated: 18 October 2014