Everything You Wanted to Know About Recovering from Colorectal Surgery


Karen Manzini, a Southern girl both by birth and choie was raised in Georgia and now living in the state after a 25 year hiatus in Italy. She participates in gardening clubs, speaks with a drawl and was raised not to discuss bodily functions like gas and bowel movements. About two years ago, she was recovering from surgery to remove a tumor in her colon and was startled when her clinicians treated passing gas and moving bowels as cause for celebration. Though she has since become comfortable discussing all things about the gastrointestinal tract, she become a volunteer for Colon Cancer Alliance that aims to reduce deaths due to colon cancer.

If you are one of them, lets us now check out everything you should know about recovering from colorectal surgery.
Where exactly are you going to operate?

Not all bowel surgeries for cancer created equal as those of rectum or last 20 centimeters of bowel are much riskier and complicated than those of the colon- the larger and upper portion of the bowel. If cancer is in colon, we choose surgery, if its in rectum, we do chemo and radiation before opting for the surgery.

What exactly are you going to do?

There are two main approaches for colorectal surgery for removing cancerous tumor:

1) Laparotomy- a surgeon makes a 6 or 7 inch abdominal incision to remove cancerous portion of the bowel and connect two new ends

2) Laparoscopy- a newer, minimally invasive procedure in which the surgeon removes the diseased bowel through smaller incisions

Although both procedures have similar long-term outcomes, patients undergoing the later recover faster, with fewer complications and are able to eat normally sooner. The beauty of laparoscopy is short term outcomes are better.

Are you the best doctor for me?

Patient needing rectal surgeries should seek a colorectal surgeon who can preserve the normal anatomy of the rectum. This will likely reduce the recurrence and need for a colostomy bag. Ask your surgeon about their experience and whether or not they’re board certified in colorectal surgery and whether they are doing things in minimally invasive fashion or robotically. This will indicate how they are more attuned to some advances in their field. Find out the best hospital with qualified surgeons performing the colorectal surgery.

Will I wake up with a colostomy bag?

If you have chosen a qualified surgeon, then the likelihood of needing a permanent colostomy bag post colorectal surgery is slim to none. The risk to need one among the rectal cancer patients ranges between 10 to 25 percent depeding on the location f tumor and expertise of surgeon. Even if you do end up with one, remember that major league baseball players have lived full lives iwth colostomy bags. Although at first this may seem like a daunting change, but most people adjust to it quite well. Since the focus of colon cancer surgeries have shifted from saving people’s lives to preserving a high quality of live, more surgical techniques are being developd with the aim to avoid that result.

Will I ever poop normally again?

Manzini who had got both a laparocopy and laparotomy surgery for her now stage 4 cancer has experienced few days for the pipes to begin moving again. After they do, you’ll probably adjust to a new normal and its obvious as well as silly to say that post intestinal surgery, your bowel habits will change and its not repeating. It is not necessarily a bad thing. If you used to go to bathroom once to twice a day before surgery then you may start going two to three times and all frequencies will be in the normal range.

In few cases, the bowel function may even improved as the surgery could have removed a tumor causing tummy trouble. Hence it is simply a matter to relearn the signals and relearn what you can trust as things do on. This is a small price to pay in people’s mind to avoid using colostomy for rest of life.

How will the surgery affect my sex life?

While some treatments for the colorectal cancer such as radiation of rectum can make sex painful, difficult and undesirable or in some cases even impossible, most patients who underwent colorectal surgery can return back to their normal sexual activities including anal sex within four to six weeks. Doctors would encourage patients to walk as soon as they are able to. However, exercises like weight lifting which stress the abdominal wall will take longer to resume. Recovery from surgery is never linear therefore you will improve over the course of weeks.

What can I eat and when?

Once the bowel wakes up, you can expect to opt for liquid diet. A week later, you eat soft, low-fiber diet which is stripped of known gut irritants to ensure low residue in bowel during healing. Over time, you may learn some foods will upset your stomach which didn’t before surgery since you have less colon to do the job. Adapt to lifestyle changes such as a diet low in saturated fats as it will reduce recurrence of cancer in colon cancer survivors.



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