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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What to expect after surgery

Recovery time

  • 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.

Wound care

  • 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.

Recovering from surgery at home

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.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on vulvar and vaginal cancers.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in October 2018
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