Risks With Surgery for Colorectal Cancer

Certain risks, such as bleeding, blood clots, or problems with anesthesia, are possible with any surgery. You should discuss these risks with your doctor.

Risks from colorectal surgery

Colorectal surgery has these specific risks:

  • Infection. Colorectal surgery increases your risk for infection because of the bacteria in your colon. Treatments before surgery can help reduce this risk. Still, a small portion of people who have colorectal surgery get an infection. Doctors can treat some skin infections by allowing them to drain and by using clean dressings. More serious infections can occur inside the abdomen. These may require additional surgery. Antibiotics are very helpful to treat infections.

  • Anastomotic leak. After the surgeon removes a section of colon, he or she sews the two ends together. A leak can occur at this connection. Then what's in your intestine can leak into your body. If the leak is small, treatment may simply involve observation and diet, allowing the colon to heal itself over time. If the leak is large, it can be life-threatening. You may require surgery to correct it. Leaks occur in a small number of people who have a colorectal resection.

  • Bowel obstruction. Sometimes your colon develops scar tissue (adhesions) while it heals. This tissue can block your intestines and cause symptoms, such as pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. If these adhesions block the intestines, it may require surgery to fix the problem.

Risks from rectal surgery

Along with the risks above, there are also other risks that come with surgery to remove a tumor from your rectum:

  • Ureteral injury. The tubes that carry urine from your kidney to your bladder are called ureters. Sometimes they can be damaged during surgery. If they are, the doctor can usually fix them during the operation. If the damage isn't noticed, there can be long-term complications.

  • Sexual dysfunction. In men, the rectum is close to the prostate. The nerves that are involved in sexual function wrap around the prostate. Sometimes these nerves are damaged. That can cause sexual dysfunction.

  • Neuropathy. The nerves in your legs can be damaged during surgery. This can be caused by pressure on your rectum created by the position you're in during surgery. After surgery, you could experience numbness and weakness in your legs. This is a rare complication. Also, the symptoms are usually temporary.

Even with these possible complications, the benefits of removing a tumor usually outweigh the risks.