Surgery for cancer in the colon
The most common type of surgery for colon cancer is a colectomy (removal of a part of the bowel) – see descriptions of the different types. Lymph nodes near the colon and some normal bowel around the cancer will also be removed.
The surgeon usually cuts the bowel on either side of the cancer (with a small border of healthy tissue called the margin) and then joins the two ends of the bowel back together. This join is called an anastomosis.
Sometimes one end of the bowel is brought through an opening made in your abdomen and stitched onto the skin. This procedure is called a colostomy (if made from the large bowel) or ileostomy (if made from the small bowel). The opening – called a stoma – allows faeces to be collected in a bag. The stoma is usually temporary, and the operation is reversed later. In some cases, the stoma is permanent. Improved surgical techniques now mean fewer people need a permanent stoma. Learn more about stomas.
After surgery, you will have a scar. Most people who have open surgery have a scar from above their navel (bellybutton) to their pubic area.
Types of colectomies
There are different types of colectomies depending on which part of the colon is removed. The surgery may be done as keyhole or open surgery.
Right hemicolectomyThe right side of the colon is removed.
Left hemicolectomyThe left side of the colon is removed.
Sigmoid colectomyThe sigmoid colon is removed.
Subtotal or total colectomyMost or all of the colon is removed.
ProctocolectomyAll of the colon and the rectum are removed.
A/Prof David A Clark, Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and The University of Queensland, QLD, and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare Gold Coast, QLD; Dr Hooi Ee, Specialist Gastroenterologist and Head, Department of Gastroenterology, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Annie Harvey, Consumer; A/Prof Louise Nott, Medical Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Hobart, TAS; Caley Schnaid, Accredited Practising Dietitian, GenesisCare, St Leonards and Frenchs Forest, NSW; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Alina Stoita, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, NSW; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Richard Vallance, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment