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. Your nurse tells you if you need to have any stitches or clips taken out. This might be done at the hospital or GP surgery.
Your nurse also gives you phone numbers of who to contact if you have any problems at home.
Many people get well quickly after their operation, but some may have one or more of the following problems:
Infection can develop in the wound. If you have an infection, the wound area might be red, hot and sore. You might also feel unwell and have a temperature. Let your doctor know as soon as possible. They can give you 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 haematoma or seroma. Any fluid that collects needs to be drained. Your doctor or nurse does this by putting in a needle or drainage tube.
You might have bruising around the operation area. This can look alarming but it usually goes away slowly over a few days or weeks.
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 (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 nurse know if you have an area in your leg that is swollen, hot, red or 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). Symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- coughing up blood
- feeling dizzy or light headed
To prevent clots it's important to do the leg exercises that you were taught by your nurse or physiotherapist. Your nurse might also give you an injection just under the skin to help lower the risk whilst you are in hospital. You might need to carry on having these injections for 4 weeks, even after you go home. This depends on the type of operation you had.
Your nurse might teach you to do these injections yourself before you go home. Or a district nurse might come to your home to do them.
It's important to continue wearing compression stockings if you have been told to by your doctor.
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?
Your cancer type
Surgery is different for each cancer type. You can find more detailed information about what happens during and after surgery on our cancer type pages.