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Before your operation for bowel cancer

Men and women discussing bowel cancer

This page is about what happens before you have an operation for bowel cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Before bowel surgery

Before your operation you will see your surgeon and anaesthetist and usually a specialist nurse. They will explain what the operation involves and what to expect. Your doctor will ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the operation. If you are having a colostomy or ileostomy you may also see a stoma nurse who will tell you how to look after the stoma. You may also have some tests to make sure that you are fit enough for surgery, such as blood tests, a chest X-ray, and an ECG to check your heart is healthy.

Bowel preparation

For some types of bowel surgery you may not need any special diet or bowel preparation. But for some operations you will be asked to follow a special diet for a few days before your surgery. You may also have a laxative to take daily for 2 or 3 days before surgery.

Eating and drinking

Your nurse may give you high protein, high energy drinks the day before your surgery. You won't be able to eat anything for 6 hours before the operation. You may also have to stop drinking at that time. In some hospitals your nurse will give you a clear, energy rich drink the night before your surgery and 2 to 3 hours beforehand. 

Preventing infection and blood clots

To help stop infection after surgery you will have antibiotics before the operation. To stop blood clots forming, you may have anti clotting medicines as injections under the skin. Your nurse or physiotherapist will also show you leg exercises that you can do after the surgery. They may also give you elasticated stockings to wear.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating bowel cancer section.

 

 

Information and explanation

Before your operation you will see your surgeon, and anaesthetist and usually a specialist nurse. They will explain what the operation involves and what to expect when you come round from the anaesthetic. This may include information about what to eat and drink and when you will be able to move around. 

Your surgical team may meet you in the outpatient clinic before you go into hospital. Or you may meet them when you arrive at the hospital for your operation. They will ask if you have any questions. When your questions have been answered your doctor will ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the operation. Remember, no operation can be done without your consent. 

You may also see a stoma nurse if you are going to have an opening made onto the surface of your tummy (abdomen) for a colostomy or ileostomy. They will explain how to look after the stoma.

 

Tests

You may have some tests to make sure that you are fit enough for surgery. You may have these in a pre assessment clinic in the outpatient department a few days before your operation. Or you may have them in the hospital a day or two beforehand.

You may have some of the tests described in the diagnosing bowel cancer section. You may also have tests to check your general health, including

  • Blood tests to check your kidney and liver function
  • A chest X-ray to check your lungs are healthy
  • An ECG to check your heart is healthy
 

Preparing your bowel

For some types of bowel surgery you may not need any special diet or bowel preparation. But in some hospitals, or for some types of operation, your surgeon may want you to follow a special diet for a few days beforehand. The special diet aims to reduce the amount of stool in the bowel. 

For some types of surgery you may also have a laxative to take daily for 2 or 3 days. This is to empty your bowel before the operation. In some hospitals you will also have enemas or a bowel washout to empty the bowel completely.

 

Eating and drinking

Your nurse may give you high protein, high energy drinks the day before your surgery. You won't be able to eat anything for 6 hours before the operation. In some hospitals you may also have to stop drinking at that time. But in some other hospitals your nurse will ask you to drink a clear, energy rich fluid the night before your surgery and 2 to 3 hours before before you to go theatre. The drink gives your body energy during the operation and may help you to recover more quickly.

 

Preventing infection

To help stop infection after surgery you will have antibiotics before the operation. You may have them as an injection or tablets.

 

Preventing blood clots

When you are in bed after an operation, you are more likely to develop blood clots. This is partly because you are not moving around very much. To stop blood clots forming, you may have  medicines called heparin, tinzaparin, or dalteparin before the surgery and for a couple of weeks afterwards. You usually have these as small injections under the skin. You may need to have blood tests to measure your clotting times and make sure you are getting the right amount of this medicine.

Your nurse or physiotherapist will show you leg exercises that you can do after surgery to lower the risk of blood clots. They may also give you elasticated stockings to wear.

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Updated: 29 August 2013