Beating bowel cancer together

After surgery

After your operation, you will spend a few hours in a recovery room before you go back to the ward. You will have a needle in your hand or arm that is connected to a drip. You will also have a tube draining urine from your bladder (a catheter). The nurse will remove these as soon as you’re eating and drinking again. You may also have other tubes to drain fluid from the area that has been operated on.

Managing your diet

You will be allowed to eat and drink soon after your return to the ward. Most people find that small portions of bland and low-fibre foods are easier to digest initially.

You will start to eat small portions of low-fibre food soon after your operation. This will help you recover from the operation more quickly and get your bowel working again. You may have loose bowel movements (diarrhoea) for a while after your operation. Your healthcare team can give you medicines and exercises to help.

You can find more information about regaining bowel control after surgery in our health information booklet Regaining bowel control

Getting back on your feet

Your healthcare team will help you to get out of bed and start moving around as soon as possible. They will show you some leg and breathing exercises to help prevent chest infections. Compression stockings and injections to thin your blood will help to prevent blood clots.

Side effects

All treatments carry a possible risk of side effects. Your healthcare team should give you written information about the possible side effects. But they won't be able to tell you in advance which side affects you will get of how long they will last.

Surgery can cause changes in how your bowel works. You can read more about this on Macmillan Cancer Support website. At your hospital appointments, your healthcare team will ask you about the side effects you're getting. You might want to keep a diary to help you remember the details.

Most side effects get better a few weeks after you finish treatment. But some people may have side effects that last longer (long-term effects) of they may get new side effects later on (late effects).

Possible long-term and late side effects of surgery include:

  • Tiredness
  • Hernia
  • Bowel problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Bladder problems
  • Infertility

Pain relief

Your nurse or doctor will give you medicines to relieve pain. For the first day after your surgery, you may have a PCA (patient controlled analgesia) pump. You can control this yourself by pressing a button when you need extra pain relief. Or you may have an injection in your back (epidural) to control pain. Tell your nurse if you are in pain as soon as possible so that they can change the type or dose of pain relief.


If you have a stoma, your stoma care nurse will visit you on the ward. They will show you how to look after your stoma and can give you advice on what food to eat.

Going home

You will go home a few days after your operation. Your healthcare team will give you an appointment for an outpatient clinic before you leave hospital. You may want to take a list of questions to help you remember what you want to say. We have suggested some questions you might like to ask.

 Download our Your operation booklet

More information

Cancer Research UK has information on what happens after surgery, including a video showing breathing and circulation exercises.


Reviewed July 2019

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