What to expect after surgery
When you wake up after the operation, you will be in a recovery room near the operating theatre or in the intensive care unit. Once you are fully conscious, you will be taken back to your bed on the hospital ward. The surgeon will visit you as soon as possible to explain the results of the operation.
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Tubes and drips
You are likely to have several tubes in place, which will be removed as you recover:
- a drip inserted into a vein in your arm (intravenous drip) will give you fluid, medicines and pain relief
- a small plastic tube (catheter) may be inserted into your bladder to collect urine in a bag
- a tube may be inserted down your nose into your stomach (nasogastric tube) to drain stomach fluid and prevent vomiting
- tubes may be inserted in your abdomen to drain fluid from the site of the operation.
As with all major surgery, you will have some discomfort or pain, but this can be controlled.
For the first day or two, you may be given pain medicine through a:
- drip into a vein (intravenous drip)
- local anaesthetic injection into the abdominal wall (a transverse abdominis plane or TAP block) or into the spine (an epidural)
- patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) system – you press a button to give yourself a measured dose of pain relief.
Let your doctor or nurse know if you are in pain so they can adjust your medicines to make you as comfortable as possible. Pain that is treated early is better managed. After you go home, you can continue taking pain medicines as needed.
Pain in the shoulder
During a laparoscopy, carbon dioxide gas is used to inflate the abdomen. The gas can irritate nearby nerves. This can cause pain in the lower chest and up into the shoulder area, which is known as “referred pain”. This type of pain can be quite uncomfortable and may last several days. Walking and mild pain medicines can help ease the pain in the shoulder. Applying heat to the area may also help.
I felt great relief after the surgery, as once the tumour had been removed, the pain that I had in my lower abdomen and hip was gone.Ann
Blood clot prevention
You will be encouraged to move around as soon as you can. It is common to be given a daily injection of a blood thinner to reduce the risk of blood clots. Depending on your risk of clotting, you may be taught to give this injection to yourself so you can continue it for a few weeks at home. You may also be advised to wear compression stockings for 2–3 weeks to help the blood in your legs to circulate and avoid clots.
You can expect some light vaginal bleeding after the surgery, which should stop within two weeks. Your treatment team will talk to you about how you can keep the wound clean to prevent infection once you go home.
If you had part of the bowel removed and have a stoma, a stomal therapy nurse will explain how to manage it.
Length of stay
You will stay in hospital for 1-4 days. How long you stay will depend on the type of surgery you had and how quickly you recover. If you had laparoscopic surgery, you will be able to go home on the first or second day after the operation.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery.
Will I need further treatment after surgery?
All tissue and fluids removed during surgery are checked for cancer cells by a pathologist. The results will help confirm the type of ovarian cancer you have, if it has spread (metastasised), and its stage.
Your doctor should have all the test results within two weeks of surgery.
Further treatment will depend on the type, stage and grade of the cancer.
If the cancer is advanced, it’s more likely to come back, so surgery will usually be followed by chemotherapy, and occasionally by targeted therapy. Radiation therapy is recommended only in particular cases.
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
Dr Nisha Jagasia, Gynaecological Oncologist, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; Sue Hayes, Consumer; Bronwyn Jennings, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Mater Health, QLD; Dr Andrew Lee, Radiation Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre and Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Tarek Meniawy, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Caitriona Nienaber, Cancer Council WA; Jane Power, Consumer; A/Prof Sam Saidi, Senior Staff Specialist, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW.
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