How Surgery for Colorectal Cancer Affects Your Bowel Function

After having a section of colon removed, the biggest change you may experience is that you may not have normal bowel function. You may have more bowel movements than usual. Some people have seven or eight a day in the first months after surgery. And you may have a more urgent need to have a bowel movement--meaning that, once you feel the urge, you have to get to the bathroom quickly to avoid incontinence. These side effects usually improve over time. It may take about two years to fully adjust. Even then, you’re likely to have bowel movements three to four times a day. And you may still have bowel urgency.

If your tumor was in the rectum, your surgeon may have created a special pouch during surgery to help reduce the time span for these kinds of bowel problems. It’s called a J-pouch. Your surgeon forms it during the same surgery to remove your rectum.

A J-pouch functions as a substitute rectum to expand and hold stool. The surgeon loops the colon back on itself and staples it together, forming a pouch that looks like the letter J. The pouch imitates the collection area that you had with a rectum. Stool can then collect there until you’re able to get to a bathroom. The loop holds more stool than a straight path. This enables you to get back to a stable bowel pattern more quickly after surgery. You may be able to have stable bowel function in about three months.

Depending on the type of surgery you had, your doctor may have needed to create an opening, called an ostomy or stoma, in your abdomen through which waste can leave your body. This may be temporary or permanent.