Surgery may be necessary to treat bowel cancer. Your bowel is a long tube and the surgery usually involves removing the section of the tube affected by cancer. The amount of bowel removed depends on the position and size of the cancer, and how advanced it is.
If you have bowel cancer, surgery may be necessary as part of your treatment. Bowel cancer surgery aims to remove the area of your bowel affected by cancer and usually a small amount of healthy tissue either side, to ensure all the cancer cells are removed.
Lymph nodes (small bean-shaped organs that are part of your immune system) near your bowel are usually removed as well because cancer tends to spread to the lymph nodes.
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You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.
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Our dedicated team will also give you tailored advice to follow in the run up to your visit.
Once you've booked bowel cancer surgery, we may ask you to follow a special diet before the operation and to take laxatives to clear your bowel. As well as the special diet and laxatives, you may also need to have a bowel washout (an enema). A tube will be passed into your rectum and water is used to flush out the remaining contents of your bowel.
We understand that having surgery can potentially be a time of anxiety and worry. Our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you, holding your hand, every step of the way.
Bowel cancer surgery is done under general anaesthesia, which means you'll be asleep during the procedure and will feel no pain. The operation usually takes about two hours.
During the procedure, your surgeon will make a cut in the skin over the centre of your abdomen and remove the section of your bowel (a long tube) affected by cancer. The two ends are then joined together with stitches or staples.
If the two ends of the bowel cannot be rejoined, you may need a colostomy (a procedure to divert one end of your colon through an opening in your abdomen) or ileostomy (a procedure which diverts the small bowel). One end of your bowel is joined to an opening in the skin (called a stoma). Waste can then pass from your bowel into a bag. The bag is worn over the stoma and lies against your tummy.
Colostomies and ileostomies may be temporary, allowing your bowel time to heal after an operation. Once healed, the procedure may be reversed. This is called stoma reversal. However, in some cases a permanent colostomy or ileostomy may be necessary.
Your surgeon will discuss colostomies, ileostomies and stomas with you before the operation. Sometimes it isn’t possible for your surgeon to tell what is needed until the operation is under way.
You will be given antibiotics during the operation to reduce the chance of getting an infection afterwards.
Depending on the type of surgery performed, you will usually need to stay in hospital for up to seven days following bowel surgery for cancer. You will only be discharged home once medically safe to do so.
After the procedure, you will be taken from the operating theatre to a recovery room, where you will come round from the anaesthesia under close supervision.
After this, you will be taken to your room or comfortable area where you can rest and recuperate until we feel you’re ready to go home.
We will provide you with a supply of all the medicines your consultant feels you need to take home with you after you've left hospital, up to 14 days. This may be at an additional cost to some patients.
There are a number of pain management options available so please discuss any discomfort with your nurse, anaesthetist or surgeon.
Usually you will have a scar on the front of your abdomen. The exact size of the scar will depend on your particular operation.
You will be given advice about deep-breathing exercises to help prevent chest infections, which are a possible complication associated with this kind of bowel surgery.
A full recovery can take up to 12 weeks. You will need to take it easy and should expect to tire easily to begin with. Follow your surgeon’s advice about strenuous exercise, lifting and driving.
Once you’re ready to be discharged from hospital, you’ll need to arrange a taxi, friend or family member to take you home.
You may find that some routine daily activities, such as shopping, are difficult for a few weeks and you’ll need some help with light errands.
Even after you’ve left hospital, we’re still looking after you every step of the way. After bowel cancer surgery, we will provide you with all the appropriate medication, advice on what to do and not to do, and follow-up support.
Typically your consultant will want to see you after your treatment to see how you’re doing. A follow up appointment will be made for you before you leave the hospital.
On rare occasions, complications following bowel cancer surgery can occur.
Complications specific to bowel surgery include damage to other organs and structures in the abdomen, such as the stomach, although this is rare. The nerves responsible for sexual function may be damaged. Serious complications of bowel surgery, including death, do occur.
This risk is small, and is usually lower than the risk to life if surgery is not carried out. We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.
If you have any questions or concerns, we're here to help.
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The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.
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