What to Expect After Surgery for Colorectal Cancer

When you first wake up, you will probably be in pain. Your doctor or nurse will give you a painkiller as needed for a few days to help you feel more comfortable. The pain medications will also help you get up and walk the day after your surgery, which is important for your recovery.

It will take you time to get back to eating normally and having regular bowel movements. You will not be able to eat right away after surgery. You will be on a clear liquid diet until there are signs that your bowels are moving again, after which you may be able to add some soft foods. If you have a temporary or permanent ostomy, you'll also learn how to take care of your stoma. You will still have the Foley catheter in your bladder to drain urine. It allows your health care providers to measure your urine output and, thus, keep track of your fluid status. It is usually removed before you go home.

You may have to stay in the hospital for up to seven days. How long you stay will depend on the type of surgery you have. You can gradually return to most normal activities once you leave the hospital. But you should avoid lifting heavy things for six weeks.

After surgery, you may feel weak or tired for a while. The amount of time it takes to recover from an operation is different for each person. But you will probably not feel like yourself for several months. You will be able to get your incision wet. But you shouldn't take baths or go swimming to reduce your risk of infection. You won't be able to drive for two weeks, or as directed by your health care providers.

Unless you've had laparoscopic colon surgery--which uses smaller incisions--you may have a 5-to-7-inch scar running up and down through your belly button. This will likely heal into a thin scar, unless you are prone to developing thicker scars.

After surgery, you may have either chemotherapy or radiation to reduce the chance that any remaining cancer cells will spread. These are called adjuvant therapies.