Colon Resection Surgery for Polyps or Colon Cancer
Before Surgery for Colon Resection
Before your surgery, you may be asked to follow a special diet to help reduce your discomfort, and should drink plenty of water (eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily).
Inform your doctor about any medications you take, including over-the-counter supplements. Some medications must be out of your system before surgery.
Preparing for Surgery
- Your colon must be completely cleaned out before the procedure. This is called a “bowel prep.” Your doctor may have you do this at home or in the hospital. A number of cleansing methods may be used, including enemas or laxatives and a clear-liquid diet.
- Clear liquid diet: For 12 to 24 hours before your surgery, you will be told not to eat any solid foods and to drink only clear liquids. These include broth, plain coffee, gelatin, and clear fruit juice.
- Take nothing by mouth (“NPO”) after midnight on the night before your surgery. This includes water and chewing gum. Your stomach must be empty. If there are any required medications that your doctor has okayed, including antibiotic pills, take them with a small sip of water.
- Arrange for a responsible adult to give you a ride home from the hospital.
- Arrange for help at home for the first few days after the surgery.
- Prior to the operation, blood tests, an electrocardiogram (EKG), or a chest x-ray might be required.
During Colon Resection Surgery
The day of surgery you will come to the hospital and the nurses will get you ready for surgery. They may clean and shave the surgical area, start an IV, and answer any last-minute questions. You will be put to sleep by the anesthesiologist before the procedure begins.
You will be admitted into the hospital for at least 4 to 8 days. During your stay, you’ll be monitored carefully to make sure you’re healing well and that your colon has started working again.
A nasogastric (NG) tube, going through your nose and into your stomach, may be used to keep your stomach empty for a few days. The surgery will cause a postoperative ileus. This is a temporary paralysis of a portion of the intestines preventing food or drinks from moving forward. It is important for you to slowly start your diet to prevent complications. You’ll receive the fluids you need intravenously during that time. When you start to pass gas, it is a sign that your colon is working again. Then the hospital will start you on a liquid diet. If you are tolerating the liquid diet with no nausea or increased abdominal pain, you will progress to a soft diet, typically in a day or so. You should continue the soft diet for 2 to 8 weeks after surgery, depending on your healing and what your doctor instructs. We will provide a list of foods to help you choose a soft diet when you have returned home.
You should be up and walking within a day or two after surgery. This will encourage your circulation and bowel function to return to normal, and may prevent complications.
Do your breathing exercises to make sure you are inflating your lungs completely. It may be painful for your abdomen at first but it is important to do these exercises to clear any fluid that may be in your lungs from surgery, and prevent pneumonia.
Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy
Even if your surgeon has removed all the cancer from your colon, colon cancer has been found to recur in 50% of cases. Your doctor will refer you to an oncologist who will help you with the radiation and chemotherapy you need to prevent a recurrence.
Caring for Yourself after Surgery
Activity: When you return home, take it easy. Do not do any strenuous activities or heavy lifting of more than 5 to 10 pounds for at least 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. (A gallon of milk weighs just over 8 pounds.) You can begin having sex again when you feel ready, usually 2-4 weeks post surgery.
Work: You can return to work 1 to 2 weeks after laparoscopic surgery and 3 to 4 weeks after an open surgical repair, depending on the type of work and if light duty is acceptable.
Shower: You can shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. There will be sterile tape (called a “steri-strip”) over the incision. Leave the tape on while showering. Do not soak in a bath or hot tub. Sometimes an incision is stapled and you won’t have steri-strips. In this case you can shower without a bandage. Be sure to dry the area well afterwards.
Incision Care: Your incision will be dressed with a sterile bandage or “steri-strips.” Leave this bandage on until it falls off on its own or until your doctor takes it off in the office. There may be some redness around the edges of the incision. An infection may be starting if the drainage is thick green or yellow, or if the skin around the incision is increasingly red or warm to touch. Call your doctor if these symptoms occur.
Driving: Do not drive while taking pain medications. It is considered driving “under the influence.” You will be able to drive when you feel capable of making a quick decision and no longer need narcotic pain medications.
Fever: Your temperature can vary after surgery and a low-grade temperature is common. If your temperature exceeds 101.5 degrees or if it is accompanied by chills, vomiting, or flu-like symptoms, you should call the office.
Pain: Pain control is very important after surgery. Be sure to stay ahead of the pain and take your pain medication as prescribed by your doctor. You may add Advil (ibuprofen) to your pain medication if you do not have any allergies or contraindications, such as gastric ulcers, gastric reflux, or kidney disease. Ask your doctor if you have any questions. Right shoulder pain is common after laparoscopic surgery. This may be due to the gas used to inflate your abdomen. It will dissipate in a few days.
Constipation is common after surgery. Taking pain medications such as Vicodin or Percocet also cause the bowel to move more slowly. It is also suggested to take a stool softener, such as Colace while taking pain medications. To help with constipation try prune juice or milk of magnesium as needed.
Diarrhea is also common after a colon resection. Your colon is shortened and therefore stool may pass at a faster rate. Give it time, approximately 6 to 8 weeks, and your colon should start to function more normally. When a long piece of colon is removed, however, a faster transit time may be a permanent side effect of the surgery.
Nausea is common after surgery. Be sure to take your pain medication on a full stomach. Stick to a soft, bland diet for the first few weeks after surgery. If necessary, call your doctor for prescription medication to aid with nausea.
- You will start a liquid-to-soft diet in the hospital. Continue this diet for the first 2 to 6 weeks after surgery. Refer to our handout on soft diet.
- Eat foods that are easy to swallow and digest, such as soup, bananas, gelatin, pudding, and yogurt.
- Eat frequent, small meals.
- Once you begin eating regular meals, you may feel full faster. This will go away over time.
When to Call the Doctor
- Fever over 101.5 degrees.
- Persistent, increasing pain.
- Increased redness or drainage from an incision.
- Pain or swelling in your calf.
- Difficulty breathing.
When to Go the Emergency Room
- Uncontrolled bleeding from the incisions
- Persistent vomiting
- Change in mental status
- Inability to breathe