- Bowel cancer
- Treatment for early bowel cancer
- The risks and side effects of bowel surgery
The risks and side effects of bowel surgery
Here we discuss the risks and side effects that are commonly associated with bowel surgery.
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Your surgeon will talk to you about the risks and complications of bowel surgery. As with any major operation, surgery for bowel cancer has risks. These may include infection, bleeding, blood clots, damage to nearby organs, or leaking from the joins between the remaining parts of the bowel. After the operation, you will be carefully monitored for any complications. See more on what to expect after surgery.
Temporary or permanent stoma
Some people go home with a stoma. A stomal therapy nurse will see you after the operation to teach you how to look after the stoma and attach the bags. For more on this, see Having a stoma. You will stay in hospital until you feel confident managing the stoma.
Changes in bowel and bladder function
You may notice changes to how your bowel and bladder work. These changes usually improve within a few months but, for some people, it can take longer. Internal scar tissue (adhesions) from bowel surgery can increase the risk of developing a bowel obstruction. This may occur even many years after the surgery.
Changes in sexual function
In males, removing the rectum may affect the nerves controlling erections or ejaculation. You may have trouble getting or keeping an erection firm enough for intercourse or other sexual activity. In females, if the rectum is removed, there may be a different feeling in the vagina during intercourse. It may be uncomfortable, as the rectum no longer cushions the vagina.
For more on this, see Sexuality, intimacy and cancer.
Changes to what you can eat
For more on this, see Managing bowel and dietary changes.
It is normal to feel tired after surgery. Although it’s a good idea to stay active and do gentle exercise as recommended by your doctor, you may find that you tire easily and need to rest during the day. Take breaks if you feel tired, and follow your doctor’s advice about restrictions, such as avoiding heavy lifting. You might have to remind your family and friends that it may take several months to recover from surgery.
For more on this, see our general section on Fatigue.
Podcast: Managing Cancer Fatigue
A/Prof David A Clark, Senior Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD, The University of Queensland and The University of Sydney; Yvette Adams, Consumer; Dr Cameron Bell, Gastroenterologist, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast University Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; John Clements, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Medical Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, GastroIntestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Prof Alexander Heriot, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon, Director Cancer Surgery, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Director, Lower GI Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Kirsten van Gysen, Radiation Oncologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW.
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