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Going home after surgery

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

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

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Going home after surgery 

How long you need to stay in hospital depends on the type of operation you have had and how quickly you recover. You may 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 will arrange for a district nurse or a nurse at your GP surgery to change it. They will also 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 or heat and soreness around the wound. Infection can also make you feel unwell and cause a high temperature
  • Bruising – this can look alarming but will gradually lessen over the following days and weeks
  • Pain – it is natural to have some pain after surgery but this can usually be well controlled with painkillers. Tell your doctor or nurse if your painkillers are not working
  • Blood clots (called a deep vein thrombosis or DVT) can develop after surgery if you are not moving around as much as usual. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have signs of a blood clot, such as a hot, red and sore area in your leg or breathlessness

When you leave hospital your doctors and nurses will 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 have had and how quickly you recover. You can find more specific information in the surgery pages for your cancer type.

You will need to give yourself time to get over the surgery. You may 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 may be able to go to the GP surgery. The nurse will also tell you if you need to have any stitches or clips taken out and whether you can have this done at the hospital or GP surgery.

Your nurse will tell 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

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

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

Bruising

You may 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 can usually be 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. We have a section about pain control

Blood clots

Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, DVT) are a possible complication of having surgery because you may not be moving 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. 

Most blood clots can be successfully treated with drugs to dissolve the clot. To prevent clots it is important to do the leg exercises that you were taught by your nurse or physiotherapist.

 

Questions to ask

Before you leave hospital the doctors and nurses will tell you what to expect. It may help 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?
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Updated: 20 February 2014