What to Expect After Surgery for Stomach Cancer

You may be in the hospital for three to five days. You may not be able to work for up to six weeks. Complications from stomach cancer surgery may include the following problems that you should discuss with your doctor: 

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Blood clots

  • Damage to nearby organs, such as your pancreas and liver

  • Leaking of fluid between the ends of the stomach and esophagus or between your stomach and small intestine. This is rare.

Here's an overview of how you may feel after surgery:

  • For the first few days, you're likely to have pain from the cut, called the incision. Medication can control your pain. You may have an epidural catheter inserted into your lower back so that it's easier to give you pain medication. Or you may have a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump. With a PCA pump, your health care provider gives you pain medication through an IV (intravenous, in your vein) line that attaches to the pump. You push a button to receive a dose of pain medication. The pump is set so that you can only receive a certain number of doses each hour, no matter how many times you push the button. A health care provider removes the IV line and pump before you leave the hospital. Talk with your doctor or nurse about your options for pain relief. Some people are hesitant to take pain medication, but doing so can actually help your healing. If you don't control pain well, for example, you may not want to cough, turn, or move often, which you need to do as you recover from surgery.

  • You may feel tired or weak for a while. The amount of time it takes to recover from an operation is different for each person.

  • You may have constipation from using opioid painkillers, from not moving much, or from not drinking or eating much. Talk with your doctor or nurse about how to keep your bowels moving.

  • You may experience frequent heartburn or abdominal pain, particularly after eating. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medications for this problem.

  • Vitamin deficiencies are also common because the stomach is important in helping the body absorb certain vitamins. For this reason, doctors routinely prescribe vitamin supplements after stomach surgery. There are some types that you can take only by injection.

  • You will have to make changes in your diet. The most important change is that you will need to eat smaller, more frequent meals every day. You may meet with a dietitian, who can help you adjust to your diet.

  • If you have a feeding tube placed at the time of surgery, you and a family member or another person may need to learn how to give you liquid feedings through the tube. You will learn how to use a pump that controls the feedings so you receive them over a period of time.

You’ll also need to see the surgeon for follow-up care after you leave the hospital. This is necessary to check on these issues:

  • How you're doing

  • How well you're eating or maintaining your nutrition

  • How your incisions are healing

  • Assess for any pain

  • Check on your bowel habits

  • Monitor any side effects you may be having

You may also need additional treatment, such as chemotherapy.