What Happens During Surgery for Colorectal Cancer

Before you go for surgery, you will meet with your surgeon to talk about the procedure. At this time, you can ask any questions and discuss any concerns you may have. This is also a good time to review the possible side effects of the surgery and to talk about its risks. You might ask if the surgery will leave scars and what those scars will look like. You might also want to ask when you can expect to return to your normal activities. After you have discussed all the details with the surgeon, you will sign a consent form that says that the doctor can perform the surgery.

A few days before your surgery, your doctor will prescribe laxatives and enemas to help clean out your colon. Your doctor will tell you when and how to use these. You may also be told to follow a special diet.

On the day of your surgery, you should arrive at the hospital admission area a couple of hours before the time your surgery is supposed to start. There, you'll complete the needed paperwork and then go to a preoperative area. In this area, you will undress and put on a hospital gown. During this time your doctors and nurses will ask you about your past medical history and drug allergies and discuss the upcoming surgical procedure. Try not to get frustrated by the repetition. These questions are repeated to help prevent mistakes.

While you are in the preoperative area, an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist will do an evaluation and explain the anesthesia you will have during your surgery. The purpose of the anesthesia is to put you to sleep so that you won't feel any pain during the operation. Be sure to answer all the questions this person asks thoroughly and honestly. This will help prevent complications. Also, ask any questions you have regarding your anesthesia because you will be signing a form that states that you understand the risks involved.

Your surgeon will also see you in the preoperative area. You can ask any last-minute questions you have. This will help put your mind at ease.

When it is time for your surgery, you will be taken into the operating room. There will be many people there, including the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, and several nurses. To ensure sterility, everyone will be wearing a head covering and a face mask. You may see X-ray images on a viewing box. Once in the room, medical staff will move you onto the operating table. There your anesthesiologist will place an intravenous line, called an IV, into your arm. This requires just a small skin prick. Sometimes the IV may be started by the nurses. Someone will place special stockings on your legs to help prevent blood clots. EKG wires with small, sticky pads on the end will be attached to your chest to monitor your heart, and a blood pressure cuff will be wrapped around your arm. When all the preparation is complete, you will receive the anesthetic through the IV and will fall asleep.

During surgery, a Foley catheter will be placed through your urethra and into your bladder. This is a hollow tube used to drain urine. Also, a nasogastric tube may be placed in your nose. This is a suction tube that extends into the esophagus and stomach to drain stomach contents. You will also have a breathing tube placed in your windpipe, and a ventilator will control your breathing.

What is removed during surgery and where your incisions are depend on the type of surgery you have, which is based on where the tumor is. Colectomy is the surgery that's most commonly used for colon cancer.

After your surgery is complete, medical staff will move you to the recovery room. There, staff will monitor you for another hour or two. When you wake up, don't be alarmed by the number of tubes and wires attached to you. These are normal postoperative monitors. When you are fully awake in the recovery room, your family will be able to see you briefly. Once you are awake and stabilized, the staff will transfer you to the regular hospital floor.