What to expect after surgery for bowel cancer
This is a general overview of what to expect. Your recovery time after the operation will depend on your age, whether you had keyhole or open surgery and your general health. You will probably be in hospital for 4–7 days, but it can take 2–3 months to fully recover.
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- While you are in hospital you will have to wear compression stockings to keep the blood flowing in your legs.
- You will also be given a daily injection of a blood thinner to reduce the risk of developing blood clots.
- Some people also wear a special cuff that applies intermittent pressure to the legs.
- Some people may have to wear the stockings and have the injections for a couple of weeks after the surgery.
- You will have some pain and discomfort for several days after surgery, but this can be controlled with pain-relieving medicines.
- Pain relief may be given in various ways:
- by an injection near your spinal column (epidural or spinal anaesthetic)
- through a drip which you can control with a button (patient-controlled analgesia or PCA)
- as pills or tablets
- through little tubes giving local anaesthetic near the wound (transversus abdominis plane or TAP block catheters)
- Let your doctor or nurse know if you are in pain so they can adjust the medicines to make you as comfortable as possible. Do not wait until the pain is severe.
- You will be given fluids through a drip (also called an intravenous or IV infusion) until you can start eating and drinking again. You may need a drip for a few days.
- You may also have other tubes – from your bladder to drain urine (catheter) or from your abdomen to drain fluid from around the surgical area.
- In most centres, you will be given water to drink a few hours after the surgery, and you will usually start on solid foods the day after the surgery (or even on the day of the surgery if you feel well). You may also be given nutritional supplements to drink.
- In some centres, you will not have anything to eat or drink for several days after the surgery.
- Your treatment team will encourage you to walk the day after the surgery.
- Avoid heavy lifting (more than 3–4 kg) for about 4–6 weeks.
- A physiotherapist will teach you breathing or coughing exercises to help keep your lungs clear. This will reduce the risk of getting a chest infection.
- Gentle exercise has been shown to help people manage some of the common side effects of treatment and help them return to their usual activities faster.
- See an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist for advice.
Podcast: Managing Cancer Pain
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.
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