Recovery after surgery
The length of your hospital stay and the side effects you experience will depend on the type of surgery you have. Most women are in hospital for a few days to a week.
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- Your recovery time after the operation will depend on your age, the type of surgery you had and your general health.
- If only a small amount of skin is removed, the wound will probably heal quickly. You will spend several days in hospital.
- If your lymph nodes are removed or the surgery is more extensive, recovery will take longer. You will spend about 6–8 days in hospital.
- While you are in bed, you may need to wear compression stockings and have blood-thinning injections. These measures help the blood in your legs circulate and prevent blood clots in the deep veins of your legs (deep vein thrombosis).
|Do not put anything into the vagina after the surgery until your doctor says the area is healed (usually 6–8 weeks).|
- You will be given medicine to reduce any pain.
- For the first day or two, pain medicine may be given in various ways: by injection into a muscle; by a drip into a vein (intravenous or IV drip); by a drip into a space around the spinal cord (epidural), which numbs the body from the waist down; or by injection into specific nerves during or after the surgery (nerve block).
- When you are ready, you will switch to pain-relieving pills or tablets. After you go home, you can continue taking these for as long as needed.
- Strong pain medicines and long periods in bed can make bowel motions difficult to pass (constipation). It is important to avoid straining when passing a bowel motion, so you may need to take laxatives. Talk to your treatment team about suitable drugs.
Tubes and stitches
- You may have a tube called a catheter to drain urine from your bladder. This helps keep your wound clean and dry. It will be removed before you leave hospital.
- There may be a surgical drain placed in the wound to draw fluid away from the incision. The drain needs to stay in until there is not too much fluid coming out, so you may go home with the drain still in place. If this is the case, community nurses can help you manage the care of the drain at home until it is removed.
- Your doctor will tell you how soon you can sit up after surgery and how to walk to avoid the stitches coming apart.
- Stitches usually dissolve and disappear as the wound heals. Otherwise, they will be removed within a couple of weeks.
- Some surgeons use surgical glue instead of stitches. The glue falls off when the wound has healed.
- Infection is a risk after vulvar surgery, so it is important to keep the area clean and dry.
- While you are in hospital, the nurses will wash and dry the vulva for you a few times a day. They may also apply an ointment to help prevent infection.
- The nurses will show you how to look after the wound at home. You will need to wash it two to three times a day using a handheld shower or a shallow basin (sitz bath). You will also need to rinse the vulva with water after urinating or having a bowel movement.
- Dry the vulva well. If the area is numb, be careful patting it dry. Some women use a hair dryer (on a low heat setting and at a safe distance).
- To air the wound, avoid wearing underwear and wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Report any redness, pain, swelling, wound discharge or unusual smell to your surgeon or nurse.
When you return home from hospital after surgery for vulvar cancer, there will be a period of recovery and adjustment.
Get plenty of rest in the first week after you return home. Take it easy and only do what is comfortable. However, avoid sitting for long periods of time as this can put pressure on the wound.
Check with your surgeon or nurse about when you can start doing your regular activities. You may not be able to lift anything heavy or drive for 6–8 weeks, but gentle exercise such as walking can speed up recovery.
You may feel concerned about the impact on your sex life. See Impact on sexuality for more on this.
If you have lost part of your genital area, you may feel a sense of loss and grief. See Effect on your emotions for more on this.
Using the toilet
If the opening to your urethra is affected, you may find that going to the toilet is different. The urine stream might spray in different directions or go to one side. For tips, go here.
You will need to avoid driving after the surgery until your wounds have healed and you are no longer in pain. Discuss this issue with your doctor before the surgery.
Prof Jonathan Carter, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Professor of Gynaecological Oncology, The University of Sydney, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Cancer Centre, The Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Dr Dani Bullen, Clinical Psychologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Wendy Cram, Consumer; Dr Tiffany Daly, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Radiation Oncology Princess Alexandra Raymond Terrace (ROPART), South Brisbane, QLD; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Westmead Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Anya Traill, Head of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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