Problems after surgery

Surgery for early cervical cancer includes a radical trachelectomy to remove most of the cervix or a hysterectomy (to remove the cervix and womb).

There is a risk of problems or complications after any operation. Many problems are minor but some can be very serious. Treating them as soon as possible is important.

Your nurse will give you the phone numbers of who to contact if you have any problems when you are at home.

Infections

You are at risk of getting an infection after surgery, such as a wound or chest infection. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms of infection.

They include:

  • a high temperature
  • shivering
  • feeling hot and cold
  • feeling generally unwell
  • cough
  • feeling sick
  • swelling or redness around your wound

Your doctor can give you antibiotics. Occasionally for an infection in your wound or pelvis, you may need another operation.

Vaginal bleeding

You may have some vaginal bleeding after the operation. It can be similar to a light period. It usually changes to a red or brown discharge before stopping. The discharge can last for a few days to a few weeks. 

Tell your doctor or nurse if the:

  • bleeding starts again after stopping
  • bleeding becomes heavier
  • discharge is green or yellow, or smells

Some women have irregular or painful periods after a trachelectomy. Occasionally the entrance to the womb becomes too tight, meaning the blood from a period can’t escape. You might need a minor operation to open up the entrance again. Tell your doctor if your periods don’t return to normal after the trachelectomy.

Bleeding in your pelvis or abdomen

You'll have some blood loss during your operation. Sometimes you may need a blood transfusion for this.

There is a small risk of internal bleeding after the operation. This is rare. If this happens you may need a second operation.

Your nurse will check you regularly after surgery for signs of blood loss.

Bladder or bowel problems

After any surgery to the pelvis or abdomen, there is a risk of damaging the bladder, the tubes that take urine to the bladder (the ureters), or the bowel. Your gynaecological oncologist usually notices if a problem develops during the operation and can repair it. Occasionally you may need a second operation.

A small number of women have problems emptying their bladder after having a radical trachelectomy or hysterectomy. If this happens, you may need to go home with a tube to drain the urine from the bladder (a catheter) for several weeks. Rarely, you may have long term difficulties emptying your bladder.

Blood clots

After surgery, you're at risk of blood clots developing in your pelvis or legs. This could lead to a blood clot in your lungs.

To prevent blood clots, your nurses get you up as soon as possible after your operation, and encourage you to move around or do your leg exercises.

Also, during and after your operation, you wear special stockings (called anti embolism stockings or TEDS). And after your operation you usually have injections to thin your blood. You may have the injections for up to 4 weeks after surgery.

Tell your doctor straight away or go to A&E if you:

  • have a painful, red, swollen leg, which may feel warm to touch
  • are short of breath
  • have pain in your chest or upper back
  • cough up blood

Numbness at the top of legs

There are nerves in the pelvis that are very close to where you have surgery. Some of the nerves may be damaged during the operation. This can cause numbness or tingling at the top of your legs or inside your thighs. This normally gets better in 6 to 12 months.

Swelling in your legs

If you have lymph nodes taken away as part of your operation, the flow of lymphatic fluid around your body can be disrupted. In some women, the fluid may build up in one or both legs, or rarely in the genital area.

This swelling is called lymphoedema. It can develop any time after surgery. Your nurse will give you information about how to reduce the risk of this happening.

Tell your nurse or doctor if you notice any swelling.

Swelling or lump in your abdomen (lymphocele)

A lymphocele or lymphocyst is a lump or swelling of fluid that can develop in your abdomen after the operation. The fluid often goes away by itself. But if the lymphoceles are large or causing pain, your doctor may drain them with a needle.

Follow up appointments

You’ll have follow up appointments to check your recovery and sort out any problems. You can contact your GP or specialist nurse if you have any problems between your appointments.

Last reviewed: 
25 Mar 2020
Next review due: 
25 Mar 2023
  • Cervical cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    C Marth and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2017. Volume 28, Supplement 4

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

  • Venous thrombolism: reducing the risk for patients in hospital
    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, 2010

  • Management of early stage cervical cancer
    JM Straughn and C Yashar
    UpToDate website (accessed March 2020)

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