After your operation for bowel cancer
This page tells you about what happens after your bowel cancer operation. You can find the following information
After your operation for bowel cancer
After your operation, you are likely to have several different tubes in place, including a drip into your arm and a tube to drain your wound. You may also have a tube into your bladder (a catheter) to drain urine and a tube down your nose into your stomach (nasogastric tube).
Your nurse and physiotherapist will encourage you to move about as soon as possible. They will help you to do deep breathing and leg exercises to prevent chest infections and blood clots. You may not be able to eat or drink for a few days. Or your nurses may encourage you to start taking small amounts after 24 hours.
You will almost certainly have some pain for the first few days. If you are in pain, it is important to tell your nurse or doctor straight away so they can find the right type and dose of painkiller for you.
Your colorectal nurse
There is a colorectal nurse specialist in most bowel surgery units. They will give you advice and support, and book follow up appointments. They will give you a phone number to ring if you need advice after you get home. You will probably be ready to go home about a week to 10 days after your operation.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating bowel cancer section.
The nurses and physiotherapists will get you moving about as soon as possible. Even if you are still in bed, they will help you to do deep breathing and leg exercises to help stop you getting a chest infection or blood clots in your legs.
Below is a short video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery. Click on the arrow to watch it.
Or you can read a transcript of the video (opens in new window).
To start with you are likely to have a drip into your arm (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking again. You may also have
- A tube into the bladder (catheter) to drain urine
- A fine tube (called a wound drain) near the wound to drain away any fluid that collects and help it to heal
- A tube down your nose into your stomach (nasogastric tube) for 24 hours, to drain fluids and stop you feeling sick
You may not be able to eat or drink properly for a few days until your bowel has started working normally again. We know from research that you may recover more quickly and be less likely to get an infection if you start eating and drinking after 24 hours. You usually start with sips of water and gradually increase what you have until you are able to eat a light diet. This will take a couple of days or longer, depending on the type of operation you've had. Your treatment team will tell you when you can start eating and drinking and what you can have.
After bowel surgery you may have loose stools or diarrhoea for some time. Diarrhoea is more likely if you have had a large part of your bowel removed. You may also have diarrhoea alternating with constipation. Your doctor or nurse can advise you on how to manage changes in your bowel habits. There is also detailed information about coping with diarrhoea in our coping with cancer section.
Many bowel surgery units have specialist nurses. As well as the specialist stoma nurse there is usually a colorectal nurse specialist as part of the surgical team. They can
- Give you advice and support
- Make arrangements for you to go home
- Book follow up appointments before you go
Your nurse will make sure you have a contact phone number to ring in case you are worried or need advice after you get home. Some specialist colorectal nurses will visit you at home, but not all are able to do this.
Depending on the operation you've had, you will probably be ready to go home after about a week to 10 days. Your nurse will give you an outpatient appointment before you leave the ward. The appointment is usually between 3 and 6 weeks after your operation. If you have a colostomy, a stoma nurse may arrange to see you at home.
If you live alone, or might have difficulty managing, let the nurses know when you first go into hospital so that plans can be made to help you when you go home.
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