What Happens in Colorectal Cancer Surgery?

Finding out that you’ll need surgery to treat your colorectal cancer can be scary. It may leave you feeling overwhelmed, uncertain, and anxious. At Fox Chase, we make it our priority to not only provide you with the best treatment and surgery options, but also to make you feel comfortable with your surgical treatment plan.

After a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, you and your care team will begin to consider your treatment options. While there are many treatments available at Fox Chase, surgery is very common and very effective. It’s sometimes done as a standalone treatment and other times in combination with other treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy.

Surgery may be an essential part of your treatment plan. At Fox Chase, you will have an experienced care team who will help you before, during, and after your colorectal cancer surgery.

When is Colorectal Cancer Surgery an Option?

Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of colon and rectal cancers. Different stages will require different surgeries. Surgery for colon and rectal cancer is an important tool in our arsenal of treatment options.

Minimally invasive techniques, particularly using the da Vinci robotic platform, have helped with removing tumors of varying sizes. The use of these techniques has not only improved upon the operation itself, but it has also led to quicker postoperative recovery.

A less invasive surgery can mean a smaller incision and a shorter recovery time. In all cases, the goal is to remove the tumor from your colon.

Types of Surgery for Colorectal Cancer

At Fox Chase, our gastrointestinal (GI) surgeons perform the following procedures:

Sphincter-sparing, pelvic nerve-preserving surgery

sphincter-preservation is important, and with the use of minimally invasive techniques such as the da Vinci robotic platform, we are able to dissect with detailed visualization, which allows us to increase our chances for preserving nerve function.

Minimally Invasive Colorectal Surgery

Minimally invasive surgery has revolutionized care for colorectal cancer. We are now able to use small incisions and cameras to perform operations which would otherwise require large incisions.

Robotic surgery uses a robotic arm with very small surgical tools attached to either perform surgical tasks directly or extend the reach of the surgeon, allowing for more precise surgery.

Minimally invasive surgery in general causes less surgical stress, which can lead to an easier recovery.

What to Expect Before and After Colorectal Cancer Surgery

The day before:
For all colon and rectal surgeries, you’ll need to drink the same type of liquid bowel preparation that you would for a colonoscopy. This medicine will clear the intestines and allow your physician to see everything clearly during the surgery. As with most surgeries, you also won’t be able to eat or drink anything after midnight.

The day of:
Your care team will come greet you — your nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons. They will explain everything you can expect and answer any last-minute questions you may have.

Your care team will make sure your family is updated every 2 to 3 hours to ensure you and your family feel at ease. We have an up-to-date monitor that shows which patients are in the operating room, which have left the operating room, and which are in recovery rooms. We also have volunteers who can facilitate calls to, or from your family, if they cannot be there in person.

Immediately after:
The nurses from the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) will be there as you come out of anesthesia, making sure you’re feeling okay, checking your bloodwork, and providing any necessary pain medication.

Once you’re awake enough — usually between 1 and 3 hours later — you’ll be transferred to a floor where your family can visit you.

The days after:
Minimally invasive surgery decreases the time you may need to spend in the hospital. Most patients are able to leave the hospital within a couple of days. Along with our ERAS (enhanced recovery) protocol, this has made the postoperative recovery period smoother than ever.

The Road to Recovery: Q&A

Q: Will I be in pain after the surgery?
A: Fox Chase Cancer Center is committed to ensuring your recovery goes as smoothly as possible. Though many patients don’t experience pain for very long after the surgery, we can help you manage the pain if you do. Our skilled pain management team can help ease your pain until you fully recover.

Q: How often will I need to come in for follow-up appointments?
You’ll come back shortly after your surgery for a follow-up visit to ensure that everything is working as it should — your diet, bowel movements, and incision site is healing.

Follow-up testing will be necessary, too, in order to ensure the cancer is gone. This can be done through physical examinations or computed tomography (CT) scans. You may also need a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or proctosigmoidoscopy, which are safe, routine procedures that allow your physician to see either parts of, or your entire, colon.

Your care team will also be readily available for any questions or concerns you might have regarding any aspects of your recovery — physical, mental, and emotional.