After cervical cancer surgery

You usually wake up in the recovery unit after a hysterectomy or trachelectomy for cervical cancer. You go back to the ward as soon as you're awake and your temperature, blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate are stable.

Tubes and drains

When you wake up after your operation you will have a few tubes in place. You have different tubes depending on the operation you have had. You may have:

  • a drip (intravenous infusion) into your arm to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking again
  • a tube (catheter) into your bladder to drain your urine
  • a very fine tube into your spine (an epidural), carrying painkillers to control your pain after the surgery

Your wound

The wound or wounds you have after surgery depends on the type of operation you had.

You might have up to 5 small wounds in your abdomen if you had keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery.

After a hysterectomy, you might have a wound that runs:

  • vertically, up and down your lower abdomen - called a mid line incision
  • from right to left across your lower abdomen (your bikini line) - called a transverse incision.

Your gynaecological oncologist will talk to you before your operation about the type of cut they are likely to do and why.

You have a dressing over your wound or wounds after the operation. After a day or so your nurse takes the dressing off and cleans the wound.

You may have stitches that gradually dissolve, so you don't need to have them taken out. Other types of stitches or clips stay in for at least 7 to 10 days. Your nurse may take them out before you go home. Or a nurse at your GP surgery or a district nurse can usually remove them.

Eating and drinking

You are usually able to drink and eat as soon as you feel up to it. This may be a few hours after surgery, as long as you don't feel sick. Your nurse will tell you when you can start drinking and eating.

Painkillers

It's normal to have pain for the first week or so. Your doctor and nurses will give you painkillers. 

Tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you feel pain. They need your help to find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly. 

Immediately after surgery you can have painkillers through either:

  • a drip into your bloodstream that you control (PCA or patient controlled analgesia) 
  • small thin tube put into your back and connected to a pump that gives you a constant dose of painkiller (epidural) 

You'll have painkillers to take home. Follow the instructions your nurse gives you about how often and how to take them. Contact your doctor if you still have pain or if it gets worse. 

Getting up

Getting up and walking is likely to be difficult at first. Moving about helps you to get better, but you need to start gradually. Your nurses will encourage you to get out of bed and sit in a chair as soon as possible. Once all the drips and drains are out it will be much easier to get around.

The physiotherapist might visit you after your operation to help with breathing and leg exercises. Your nurses will also remind you to do the exercises. This helps to lower the risk of more serious complications such as blood clots in the legs (DVT).

How you might feel

You may feel a bit weepy or down for a time after having surgery. This can be partly due to the general anaesthetic, but also because of feelings about your diagnosis and the operation in general.

Your nurses on the ward will help support you. You can talk things through with your specialist nurse if you feel like this when you’re at home.

Vaginal discharge

You might have some vaginal bleeding or pinkish or brown discharge for up to 6 weeks after your operation. The amount of discharge may increase about 10 to 14 days after the operation. This can last a few days and is a normal part of healing. Let your GP or specialist nurse know if the bleeding is heavy or doesn't seem to be getting better.

Use sanitary towels or panty liners instead of tampons for the vaginal discharge or bleeding. This is to reduce the risk of infection. You can usually use tampons for your period from about 6 weeks after the operation, as long as you have no pain and the vaginal discharge has stopped.

Going home

After this type of surgery, you will need to rest at home for at least a month after you come out of hospital. Until this time, you will not be able to:

  • do heavy housework, such as vacuuming
  • carry heavy bags of shopping or washing

You generally can’t drive for around 2 weeks after surgery. But this will depend on your operation and your recovery. Contact your car insurance company for advice about driving after surgery.

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 regain your strength. Do take it easy at first though.

After a radical hysterectomy, you might go home with a catheter to drain your urine. Your nurse will show you how to look after it. The catheter normally comes out 5 to 7 days after the operation.

Sex

You can usually start to have sex from around 6 weeks after your operation. This allows time for the wound at the top of your vagina to heal. You may find that it takes longer than 6 weeks before you feel ready to have sex again.

Most women don’t have problems having sexual intercourse after having a trachelectomy or hysterectomy in the long term, and have the same pleasure as before. But after a diagnosis of cervical cancer, some women find it difficult to have the same desire for sexual intimacy.

You may just need time to come to terms with everything. It may help to talk to your specialist nurse or GP if you are having any difficulties. They can let you know about other people or organisations that can help.

Follow up after surgery

You have follow up appointments to check your recovery and sort out any problems. They‘re also your opportunity to raise any concerns you have about your progress.

When you have your first outpatient appointment after surgery can vary between hospitals. You might have an appointment about 2 to 6 weeks after your operation. Some hospitals might contact you by phone to explain the results of the surgery. Then depending on the results, you may not have an outpatient appointment until 3 months after your surgery.

Last reviewed: 
25 Mar 2020
Next review due: 
25 Mar 2023
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    C Marth and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2017. Volume 28, Supplement 4

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, 9th edition
    L Dougherty and S Lister (Editors)
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Evolution in fertility-preserving options for early stage cervical cancer
    M Plante
    International Journal of Gynecological Cancer, 2013. Volume 23, Issue 6

  • Women's experiences after a radical vaginal trachelectomy for early stage cervical cancer. A descriptive phenomenological study
    PA Lloyd and others
    European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 2014. Volume 18, Issue 4

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