About Your Total Abdominal Hysterectomy and Other Gynecologic Surgeries

Share
Time to Read: About 37 minutes

This guide will help you get ready for your total abdominal hysterectomy and other gynecologic surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). It will also help you understand what to expect during your recovery.

Use this guide as a source of information in the days leading up to your surgery. Bring it with you on the day of your surgery. You and your care team will refer to it as you learn more about your recovery.

About Your Surgery

A total abdominal hysterectomy is a surgery to remove your uterus and cervix. You may be having a hysterectomy because you have:

  • Uterine cancer, cervical cancer, or ovarian cancer
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Endometriosis
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pain

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about why you’re having the surgery.

About your reproductive system

Your reproductive system includes your ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina (see Figure 1). Your uterus is in your lower abdomen (belly) between your bladder and rectum. The lower narrow end of your uterus is called your cervix. Your ovaries and fallopian tubes are attached to your uterus.

After your hysterectomy, you won’t be able to have children naturally. You’ll also stop menstruating (getting your monthly period). A hysterectomy doesn’t cause menopause unless your ovaries are removed.

If you want to have biological children in the future, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a fertility specialist.

Figure 1. Your uterus

Figure 1. Your reproductive system

Total abdominal hysterectomy

During your total abdominal hysterectomy, your surgeon will make an incision (surgical cut) on your abdomen. They’ll remove your uterus and cervix through the incision. They’ll then close your incision with sutures (stitches).

You might have 1, 2, or all 3 of the following procedures along with your hysterectomy. What you have depends on why you’re having surgery. Your surgeon will talk with you about the plan for your specific surgery.

Salpingo-oophorectomy

A salpingo-oophorectomy (sal-PIN-goh-oh-oh-foh-REK-toh-mee) is a surgery to remove your ovary and fallopian tube on one or both sides of your body.

If you haven’t started menopause, you’ll go into menopause if both of your ovaries are removed. You may have some of the common symptoms, including night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness. Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to manage these symptoms. If you’ve already gone through menopause, you shouldn’t notice any changes.

Sentinel lymph node mapping and lymph node dissection

Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands that make and store the cells that help your body fight infections. Lymph nodes are found throughout your body. Sentinel lymph nodes are the lymph nodes most likely to be affected if you have cancer and it has spread.

If your surgeon thinks you may have cancer, they may do sentinel lymph node mapping and remove some of your lymph nodes during your surgery. This is called a lymph node dissection.

For sentinel lymph node mapping, your surgeon will inject a small amount of dye in the area where the cancer may be. They’ll talk with you the type of dye they’ll use. This dye will travel to the sentinel lymph nodes and turn them blue or green.

Once the sentinel nodes are located, your surgeon will make a small incision. They’ll remove the sentinel nodes and send them to the Pathology Department to be checked for cancer cells.

Colon resection

A colon resection is a surgery to remove part of your colon. You may be having a colon resection to:

  • Remove part of your colon that has cancer
  • Remove a mass near your colon

Your surgeon will talk with you about which part of your colon will be removed (see Figure 2). After they remove this part of your colon, they’ll connect the healthy ends of your colon back together.

Figure 2. Parts of your colon

Figure 2. Parts of your colon

Getting ready for your surgery

This section will help you get ready for your surgery. Read it when your surgery is scheduled. Refer to it as your surgery gets closer. It has important information about what to do to get ready.

As you read this section, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

Getting ready for your surgery

You and your care team will work together to get ready for your surgery. Help us keep you safe by telling us if any of these things apply to you, even if you’re not sure.

  • I take an anticoagulant (blood thinner), such as:
    These are examples of medicines. There are others.

    Be sure your healthcare provider knows all the medicines you’re taking.
    • Aspirin
    • Heparin
    • Warfarin (Jantoven®, Coumadin®)
    • Clopidogrel (Plavix®)
    • Enoxaparin (Lovenox®)
    • Dabigatran (Pradaxa®)
    • Apixaban (Eliquis®)
    • Rivaroxaban (Xarelto®)
  • I take an SGLT2 inhibitor, such as:
    • Canagliflozin (Invokana®)
    • Dapagliflozin (Farxiga®)
    • Empagliflozin (Jardiance®)
    • Ertugliflozin (Steglatro®)
  • I take prescription medicine(s), including patches and creams. A prescription medicine is one you can only get with a prescription from your healthcare provider.
  • I take over-the-counter medicine(s), including patches and creams. An over-the-counter medicine is one you can buy without a prescription.
  • I take dietary supplements, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, or natural or home remedies.
  • I have a pacemaker, automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD), or other heart device.
  • I have sleep apnea.
  • I have had a problem with anesthesia (A-nes-THEE-zhuh) in the past. Anesthesia is medicine to make you sleep during a surgery or procedure.
  • I’m allergic to certain medicines or materials, including latex.
  • I’m not willing to receive a blood transfusion.
  • I drink alcohol.
  • I smoke or use an electronic smoking device, such as a vape pen or e-cigarette.
  • I use recreational drugs, such as marijuana.

About drinking alcohol

It’s important to talk with your healthcare providers about how much alcohol you drink. This will help us plan your care.

If you drink alcohol regularly, you may be at risk for problems during and after your surgery. These include bleeding, infections, heart problems, and a longer hospital stay.

If you drink alcohol regularly and stop suddenly, it can cause seizures, delirium, and death. If we know you’re at risk for these problems, we can prescribe medicine to help prevent them.

Here are things you can do before your surgery to keep from having problems.

  • Be honest with your healthcare providers about how much alcohol you drink.
  • Try to stop drinking alcohol once your surgery is planned. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you:
    • Get a headache.
    • Feel nauseous (like you’re going to throw up).
    • Feel more anxious (nervous or worried) than usual.
    • Cannot sleep.

These are early signs of alcohol withdrawal and can be treated.

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you cannot stop drinking.
  • Ask your healthcare provider questions about drinking and surgery. All your medical information will be kept private, as always.

About smoking

If you smoke, you can have breathing problems when you have surgery. Stopping for even a few days before your surgery can help.

Your healthcare provider will refer you to our Tobacco Treatment Program if you smoke. You can also reach the program by calling 212-610-0507.

About sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a common breathing problem. If you have sleep apnea, you stop breathing for short lengths of time while you’re asleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, your airway becomes fully blocked during sleep.

OSA can cause serious problems during and after surgery. Tell us if you have or think you might have sleep apnea. If you use a breathing device, such as a CPAP machine, bring it on the day of your surgery.

Using MyMSK

MyMSK (my.mskcc.org) is your MSK patient portal. You can use it to send and read messages from your care team, view your test results, see your appointment dates and times, and more. You can also invite your caregiver to make their own account so they can see information about your care.

If you do not have a MyMSK account, you can sign up at my.mskcc.org. You can get an enrollment ID by calling 646-227-2593 or your doctor’s office.

Watch How to Enroll in MyMSK: Memorial Sloan Kettering's Patient Portal to learn more. You can also contact the MyMSK Help Desk by emailing [email protected] or calling 800-248-0593.

About Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS)

ERAS is a program to help you get better faster after your surgery. It’s important to do certain things before and after your surgery as part of the ERAS program.

Before your surgery, make sure you’re ready by:

  • Reading this guide. It will help you know what to expect before, during, and after your surgery. If you have questions, write them down. You can ask your healthcare provider at your next visit or call their office.
  • Exercising and following a healthy diet. This will help get your body ready for your surgery.

After your surgery, help yourself recover more quickly by:

  • Reading your recovery pathway. This is an educational resource your healthcare provider will give you. It has goals for your recovery. It will help you know what to do and expect each day.
  • Starting to move around as soon as you can. The sooner you get out of bed and walk, the quicker you can get back to your usual activities.

Within 30 days of your surgery

Presurgical testing (PST)

You’ll have a PST appointment before your surgery. You’ll get a reminder from your surgeon’s office with the appointment date, time, and location.

You can eat and take your usual medicine(s) the day of your PST appointment.

It’s helpful to bring these things to your appointment:

  • A list of all the medicines you’re taking, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, patches, and creams.
  • Results of any medical tests done outside of MSK in the past year, if you have them. Examples include results from a cardiac stress test, echocardiogram, or carotid doppler study.
  • The names and telephone numbers of your healthcare providers.

You’ll meet with an advance practice provider (APP) during your PST appointment. They work closely with MSK’s anesthesiology (A-nes-THEE-zee-AH-loh-jee) staff. These are doctors with special training in using anesthesia during a surgery or procedure.

Your APP will review your medical and surgical history with you. You may have tests to plan your care, such as:

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart rhythm.
  • A chest X-ray.
  • Blood tests.

Your APP may recommend you see other healthcare providers. They’ll also talk with you about which medicine(s) to take the morning of your surgery.

Identify your caregiver

Your caregiver has an important role in your care. Before your surgery, you and your caregiver will learn about your surgery from your healthcare providers. After your surgery, your caregiver will take you home when you’re discharged. They’ll also help you care for yourself at home.

For caregivers

‌  Caring for a person going through cancer treatment comes with many responsibilities. We offer resources and support to help you manage them. Visit www.msk.org/caregivers or read A Guide for Caregivers to learn more.

Arrange for someone to take you home

You must have a responsible care partner take you home after your surgery. A responsible care partner is someone who can help you get home safely. They should be able to contact your care team if they have any concerns. Make sure to plan this before the day of your surgery.

If you don’t have a responsible care partner to take you home, call one of the agencies below. They’ll send someone to go home with you. There’s a charge for this service, and you’ll need to provide transportation. It’s OK to use a taxi or car service, but you still need a responsible care partner with you.

Agencies in New York Agencies in New Jersey
VNS Health: 888-735-8913 Caring People: 877-227-4649
Caring People: 877-227-4649  

Fill out a Health Care Proxy form

If you have not already filled out a Health Care Proxy form, we recommend you do now. If you already filled one out or have any other advance directives, bring them to your next appointment.

A health care proxy is a legal document. It says who will speak for you if you cannot communicate for yourself. This person is called your health care agent.

Talk with a member of your care team if you have questions about filling out a Health Care Proxy form.

Do breathing and coughing exercises

Practice taking deep breaths and coughing before your surgery. Your healthcare provider will give you an incentive spirometer to help expand your lungs. For more information, read the resource How To Use Your Incentive Spirometer.

Do physical activity

Doing physical activity will help your body get into its best condition for your surgery. It will also make your recovery faster and easier.

Try to do physical activity every day. Any activity that makes your heart beat faster, such as walking, swimming, or biking, is a good choice. If it’s cold outside, use stairs in your home or go to a mall or shopping center.

Follow a healthy diet

Follow a well-balanced, healthy diet before your surgery. If you need help with your diet, talk with your healthcare provider about meeting with a clinical dietitian nutritionist.

Buy a 4% chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) solution antiseptic skin cleanser, such as Hibiclens®

4% CHG solution is a skin cleanser that kills germs for 24 hours after you use it. Showering with it before your surgery will help lower your risk of infection after surgery. You can buy a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser at your local pharmacy without a prescription.

Buy supplies for your bowel preparation, if needed

Your healthcare provider may tell you to do a bowel preparation (clear the stool from your body) before your surgery. If they do, they’ll tell you what to do. You’ll need to buy the following supplies:

  • 1 (238-gram) bottle of polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX®). You can get this from your local pharmacy. You don’t need a prescription.
  • 1 (64-ounce) bottle of a clear liquid. For examples of clear liquids, read the “Follow a clear liquid diet” section.
  • Extra clear liquids to drink while you’re following a clear liquid diet.

Your healthcare provider may have sent prescriptions for the following antibiotics to your pharmacy:

  • Metronidazole (Flagyl®, Metrogel®) 500 milligram tablets
  • Neomycin (Neo-Fradin®) 500 milligram tablets

Be sure to also pick up these antibiotics, if needed.

7 days before your surgery

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking aspirin

Aspirin can cause bleeding. If you take aspirin or a medicine that has aspirin, you may need to change your dose or stop taking it 7 days before your surgery. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Do not stop taking aspirin unless they tell you to.

To learn more, read How To Check if a Medicine or Supplement Has Aspirin, Other NSAIDs, Vitamin E, or Fish Oil

Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements

Vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements can cause bleeding. Stop taking them 7 days before your surgery. If your healthcare provider gives you other instructions, follow those instead.

To learn more, read Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.

2 days before your surgery

Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®), can cause bleeding. Stop taking them 2 days before your surgery. If your healthcare provider gives you other instructions, follow those instead.

To learn more, read How To Check if a Medicine or Supplement Has Aspirin, Other NSAIDs, Vitamin E, or Fish Oil.

1 day before your surgery

Follow a clear liquid diet, if needed

Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to follow a clear liquid diet the day before your surgery.

A clear liquid diet includes only liquids you can see through. Examples are listed in the “Clear liquid diet” table. While you’re following this diet:

  • Don’t eat any solid foods.
  • Try to drink at least 1 (8-ounce) glass of clear liquid every hour while you’re awake.
  • Drink different types of clear liquids. Don’t just drink water, coffee, and tea.
  • Don’t drink sugar-free liquids unless you have diabetes and a member of your care team tells you to.
For people with diabetes

If you have diabetes, ask the healthcare provider who manages your diabetes what you should do while you’re following a clear liquid diet.

  • If you take insulin or another medication for diabetes, ask if you need to change the dose.
  • Ask if you should drink sugar-free clear liquids.
  • Make sure to check your blood sugar level often while you’re following a clear liquid diet. If you have any questions, talk with your healthcare provider.
Clear liquid diet
  OK to drink Do not drink
Soups
  • Clear broth, bouillon, and consommé.
  • Anything with pieces of food or seasoning.
Sweets
  • Gelatin, such as Jell-O®.
  • Flavored ices.
  • Hard candies, such as Life Savers®, lemon drops, and peppermints.
  • All others.
Drinks
  • Clear fruit juices, such as lemonade, apple, cranberry, and grape juices.
  • Soda, such as ginger ale, 7UP®, Sprite®, and seltzer.
  • Sports drinks, such as Gatorade® and Powerade®.
  • Black coffee.
  • Tea.
  • Water, including carbonated (fizzy) and flavored water.
  • Clear nutritional drinks, such as Boost® Breeze, Ensure Clear™, Pedialyte®, and Diabetishield®.
  • Juices with pulp.
  • Nectars.
  • Smoothies or shakes.
  • Milk, cream, and other dairy products.
  • Nut milks, plant milks, non-dairy creamers, and other dairy alternatives.
  • Drinks with alcohol.

Start bowel preparation, if needed

Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to do a bowel preparation the day before your surgery.

The morning of the day before your surgery, mix all 238 grams of MiraLAX with 64 ounces of clear liquid until the MiraLAX powder dissolves. Once the powder is dissolved, you can put the mixture in the refrigerator if you want to.

At on the day before your surgery, start drinking the MiraLAX mixture. It will cause frequent bowel movements, so make sure you’re near a bathroom.

  • Drink 1 (8-ounce) glass of the mixture every 15 minutes until it’s gone.
  • When you finish the MiraLAX mixture, drink 4 to 6 glasses of clear liquids. You can keep drinking clear liquids until midnight or until you go to bed, but you don’t have to.
  • Apply zinc oxide ointment or Desitin® to the skin around your anus after every bowel movement. This helps prevent irritation.

At on the day before your surgery, take your antibiotics as instructed.

At on the day before your surgery, take your antibiotics as instructed.

Note the time of your surgery

A staff member will call you after the day before your surgery. If your surgery is scheduled for a Monday, they’ll call you the Friday before. If you do not get a call by , call 212-639-5014.

The staff member will tell you what time to get to the hospital for your surgery. They’ll also remind you where to go.

This will be the following location:

Presurgical Center (PSC) on the 6th floor
1275 York Avenue (between East 67th and East 68th Streets)
New York, NY 10065
Take the B elevator to the 6th floor.

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser, such as Hibiclens

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser before you go to bed the night before your surgery.

  1. Wash your hair with your usual shampoo and conditioner. Rinse your head well.
  2. Wash your face and genital (groin) area with your usual soap. Rinse your body well with warm water.
  3. Open the 4% CHG solution bottle. Pour some into your hand or a clean washcloth.
  4. Move away from the shower stream. Rub the 4% CHG solution gently over your body from your neck to your feet. Do not put it on your face or genital area.
  5. Move back into the shower stream to rinse off the 4% CHG solution. Use warm water.
  6. Dry yourself off with a clean towel.

Do not put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.

Instructions for eating and drinking before your surgery

  • Stop eating 8 hours before your arrival time.
    • Your healthcare provider may tell you to stop eating earlier. If they do, follow their instructions.
  • 8 hours before your arrival time, do not eat or drink anything except these clear liquids:
    • Water.
    • Soda.
    • Clear juices, such as lemonade, apple, and cranberry juices. Do not drink orange juice or juices with pulp.
    • Black coffee or tea (without any type of milk or creamer).
    • Sports drinks, such as Gatorade®.
    • ClearFast or Ensure® Pre-Surgery drink.
    • Gelatin, such as Jell-O®.
    You can keep having these until 2 hours before your arrival time.

The morning of your surgery

Instructions for drinking before your surgery

If your healthcare provider gave you a ClearFast drink, finish it 2 hours before your arrival time.

 Stop drinking 2 hours before your arrival time. This includes water.

Take your medicines as instructed

A member of your care team will tell you which medicines to take the morning of your surgery. Take only those medicines with a sip of water. Depending on what you usually take, this may be all, some, or none of your usual morning medicines.

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser, such as Hibiclens

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser before you leave for the hospital. Use it the same way you did the night before.

Do not put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.

Things to remember

  • Wear something comfortable and loose-fitting.
  • If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead. Wearing contact lenses during surgery can damage your eyes.
  • Don’t wear any metal objects. Remove all jewelry, including body piercings. The tools used during your surgery can cause burns if they touch metal.
  • Leave valuable items at home.
  • If you’re menstruating (have your monthly period) or have any bleeding from your vagina, use a sanitary pad, not a tampon. You’ll get disposable underwear, as well as a pad if needed.

What to bring

  • Your breathing device for sleep apnea (such as your CPAP device), if you have one.
  • Your Health Care Proxy form and other advance directives, if you completed them.
  • Your cell phone and charger.
  • Only the money you may want for small purchases (such as a newspaper).
  • A case for your personal items (such as your eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic devices, wig, or religious articles), if you have any.
  • This guide. You’ll use it when you learn how to care for yourself after surgery.

Where to park

MSK’s parking garage is on East 66th Street between York and 1st avenues. If you have questions about prices, call 212-639-2338.

To get to the garage, turn onto East 66th Street from York Avenue. The garage is about a quarter of a block in from York Avenue. It’s on the right (north) side of the street. There’s a tunnel you can walk through that connects the garage to the hospital.

There are other parking garages on:

  • East 69th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.
  • East 67th Street between York and 1st avenues.
  • East 65th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.

Once you’re in the hospital

When you get to the hospital, take the B elevator to the 6th floor. Check in at the desk in the PSC waiting room.

Many staff members will ask you to say and spell your name and birth date. This is for your safety. People with the same or a similar name may be having surgery on the same day.

When it’s time to change for surgery, you’ll get a hospital gown, robe, and nonskid socks to wear.

Meet with a nurse

You’ll meet with a nurse before surgery. Tell them the dose of any medicines you took after midnight (12 a.m.) and the time you took them. Make sure to include prescription and over-the-counter medicines, patches, and creams.

Your nurse may place an intravenous (IV) line in one of your veins, usually in your arm or hand. If your nurse does not place the IV, your anesthesiologist (A-nes-THEE-zee-AH-loh-jist) will do it in the operating room.

Meet with an anesthesiologist

You’ll also meet with an anesthesiologist before surgery. They will:

  • Review your medical history with you.
  • Ask if you’ve had any problems with anesthesia in the past. This includes nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up) or pain.
  • Talk with you about your comfort and safety during your surgery.
  • Talk with you about the kind of anesthesia you’ll get.
  • Answer questions you have about anesthesia.

Your doctor and anesthesiologist may also talk with you about placing an epidural catheter. An epidural catheter is a thin, flexible tube that’s placed in your back, in the space just outside your spinal cord. An epidural catheter is a way to give you pain medication after your surgery.

Get ready for your surgery

When it’s time for your surgery, you’ll need to remove your hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic devices, wig, and religious articles, if you have them. You’ll either walk into the operating room or a staff member will bring you there on a stretcher.

A member of the operating room team will help you onto the operating bed and place compression boots on your lower legs. These gently inflate and deflate to help blood flow in your legs. You may also have a blood pressure cuff and EKG pads to monitor you during surgery.

Once you’re comfortable, your anesthesiologist will give you anesthesia through your IV line and you’ll fall asleep. You’ll also get fluids through your IV line during and after your surgery.

During your surgery

After you’re fully asleep, a breathing tube will be placed through your mouth and into your windpipe to help you breathe. A urinary (Foley) catheter may also be placed to drain urine (pee) from your bladder.

Once your surgery is finished, your surgeon will close your incision(s) with staples, sutures (stitches), Dermabond® (surgical glue), or Steri-Strips (thin pieces of surgical tape). They may also cover them with a dry dressing (bandage).

Your breathing tube is usually taken out while you’re still in the operating room.

Recovering after your surgery

This section will help you know what to expect after your surgery. You’ll learn how to safely recover from your surgery both in the hospital and at home.

As you read this section, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

In the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)

You’ll be in the PACU when you wake up after your surgery. A nurse will be keeping track of your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. You may get oxygen through a tube resting below your nose or a mask over your nose and mouth. You’ll also have compression boots on your lower legs.

Pain medication

You’ll get pain medication through your IV line, epidural catheter, or as a tablet that you swallow. Your healthcare providers will ask you about your pain often and give you medication as needed. If your pain isn’t relieved, tell one of your healthcare providers.

Tubes and drains

  • You may have a urinary catheter in your bladder to help keep track of how much urine (pee) you’re making. If you do, it should be removed before you leave the hospital or PACU.
  • You may have a drain in your abdomen. This lets fluid in your abdomen drain out of the area. If you have a drain, it will probably be removed before you’re discharged from the hospital.

Leaving the PACU

After your stay in the PACU, you’ll either be discharged from the hospital or taken to your hospital room in the inpatient unit. Your care team will tell you what to expect.

In your hospital room

The length of time you’re in the hospital after your surgery depends on your recovery and the exact type of surgery you had. Most people stay in the hospital for 3 to 5 days. You’ll stay in the hospital until:

  • Your pain is managed by your pain medication(s).
  • You can get up and walk around.
  • You can urinate (pee) and pass gas.
  • You can drink liquids and eat some foods.

When you’re taken to your hospital room, you’ll meet one of the nurses who will care for you while you’re in the hospital. Soon after you arrive in your room, your nurse will help you out of bed and into your chair.

While you’re in the hospital, your healthcare providers will teach you how to care for yourself while you’re recovering from your surgery. You can help yourself recover more quickly by doing the following things:

  • Read your recovery pathway. Your healthcare provider will give you a pathway with goals for your recovery if you don’t already have one. It will help you know what to do and expect on each day during your recovery.
  • Start moving around as soon as you can. The sooner you’re able to get out of bed and walk, the quicker you’ll be able to get back to your normal activities.

Managing your pain

You’ll have some pain after your surgery, especially in the first few days. Your healthcare providers will ask you about your pain often and give you medication as needed. If your pain isn’t relieved, tell one of your healthcare providers. It’s important to control your pain so you can use your incentive spirometer and move around. Controlling your pain will help you recover better.

You’ll get a prescription for pain medication before you leave the hospital. Talk with your healthcare provider about possible side effects and when to start switching to over-the-counter pain medications.

Moving around and walking

Moving around and walking will help lower your risk for blood clots and pneumonia (lung infection). It will also help you start passing gas and having bowel movements (pooping) again. Your nurse, physical therapist, or occupational therapist will help you move around, if needed.

To learn more about how walking can help you recover, read Frequently Asked Questions About Walking After Your Surgery.

To learn what you can do to stay safe and keep from falling while you’re in the hospital, read Call! Don't Fall!.

Read the resource Call! Don't Fall! to learn what you can do to stay safe and keep from falling while you’re in the hospital.

Using your incentive spirometer

Use your incentive spirometer 10 times every hour you’re awake. This will help your lungs expand fully, which helps prevent pneumonia. For more information, read the resource How To Use Your Incentive Spirometer.

Eating and drinking

If you didn’t have a colon resection as part of your surgery, you’ll be able to eat after your surgery. You’ll start by having small, frequent meals with foods that are soft and easy to digest, such as applesauce and chicken noodle soup. After that, you’ll start adding your regular foods back into your diet.

If you did have a colon resection during your surgery, you’ll get clear liquids for the first few days after your surgery. After that, you’ll start eating solid foods again. Read the “Eating and drinking” section in the “At home” part of this guide for more information.

If you have bloating, gas, or cramps, limit high-fiber foods, such as:

  • Whole grain breads and cereal
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Salads
  • Fresh fruit
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower

Your healthcare provider will give you dietary guidelines to follow after your surgery. Your inpatient clinical dietitian nutritionist will go over these guidelines with you before you leave the hospital.

Leaving the hospital

By the time you’re ready to leave the hospital, your incision(s) may have started to heal. Before you leave, look at your incision(s) with one of your healthcare providers. Knowing what they look like will help you notice any changes later.

On the day of your discharge, plan to leave the hospital around Before you leave, your healthcare provider will write your discharge order and prescriptions. You’ll also get written discharge instructions. One of your healthcare providers will review them with you before you leave.

If your ride isn’t at the hospital when you’re ready to be discharged, you may be able to wait in the Patient Transition Lounge. A member of your care team will give you more information.

At home

Read the resource What You Can Do to Avoid Falling to learn what you can do to stay safe and keep from falling at home and during your appointments at MSK.

Filling out your recovery tracker

We want to know how you’re feeling after you leave the hospital. To help us care for you, we’ll send questions to your MyMSK account. We’ll send them every day for 10 days after you’re discharged. These questions are known as your Recovery Tracker.

Fill out your Recovery Tracker every day before midnight (12 a.m.). It only takes 2 to 3 minutes to complete. Your answers to these questions will help us understand how you’re feeling and what you need.

Based on your answers, we may reach out to you for more information. Sometimes, we may ask you to call your surgeon’s office. You can always contact your surgeon’s office if you have any questions.

To learn more, read About Your Recovery Tracker.

Managing your pain

People have pain or discomfort for different lengths of time. You may still have some pain when you go home and will probably be taking pain medication. This doesn’t mean something is wrong.

Follow these guidelines to help manage your pain at home.

  • Take your medicine(s) as directed and as needed.
  • Call your healthcare provider if the medicine prescribed for you does not help your pain.
  • Do not drive or drink alcohol while you’re taking prescription pain medicine. Some prescription pain medicines can make you drowsy (very sleepy). Alcohol can make the drowsiness worse.
  • You’ll have less pain and need less pain medicine as your incision heals. An over-the-counter pain reliever will help with aches and discomfort. Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) are examples of over-the-counter pain relievers.
    • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for stopping your prescription pain medicine.
    • Do not take too much of any medicine. Follow the instructions on the label or from your healthcare provider.
    • Read the labels on all the medicines you’re taking. This is very important if you’re taking acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medicines. Taking too much can harm your liver. Do not take more than one medicine that has acetaminophen without talking with a member of your care team.
  • Pain medicine should help you get back to your usual activities. Take enough to do your activities and exercises comfortably. You may have a little more pain as you start to be more active.
  • Keep track of when you take your pain medicine. It works best 30 to 45 minutes after you take it. Taking it when you first have pain is better than waiting for the pain to get worse.

Some prescription pain medications (such as opioids) may cause constipation (having fewer bowel movements than usual).

Preventing and managing constipation

Talk with your healthcare provider about how to prevent and manage constipation. You can also follow these guidelines.

  • Go to the bathroom at the same time every day. Your body will get used to going at that time. But if you feel like you need to go, don’t put it off.
  • Try to use the bathroom 5 to 15 minutes after meals. After breakfast is a good time to go. That’s when the reflexes in your colon are strongest.
  • Exercise, if you can. Walking is a great type of exercise that can help prevent and manage constipation.
  • Drink 8 to 10 (8-ounce) cups (2 liters) of liquids daily, if you can. Choose water, juices (such as prune juice), soups, and milkshakes. Limit liquids with caffeine, such as coffee and soda. Caffeine can pull fluid out of your body.
  • Slowly increase the fiber in your diet to 25 to 35 grams per day. Unpeeled fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and cereals contain fiber. If you have an ostomy or recently had bowel surgery, ask your healthcare provider before changing your diet.
  • Both over-the-counter and prescription medicines can treat constipation. Ask your healthcare provider before taking any medicine for constipation. This is very important if you have an ostomy or have had bowel surgery. Follow the instructions on the label or from your healthcare provider. Examples of over-the-counter medicines for constipation are:
    • Docusate sodium (Colace®). This is a stool softener (medicine that makes your bowel movements softer) that causes few side effects. You can use it to help prevent constipation. Do not take it with mineral oil.
    • Polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX®). This is a laxative (medicine that causes bowel movements) that causes few side effects. Take it with 8 ounces (1 cup) of a liquid. Only take it if you’re already constipated.
    • Senna (Senokot®). This is a stimulant laxative, which can cause cramping. It’s best to take it at bedtime. Only take it if you’re already constipated.
    If any of these medicines cause diarrhea (loose, watery bowel movements), stop taking them. You can start again if you need to.

Caring for your incision(s)

Your incision(s) will be closed with sutures, staples, Dermabond, or Steri-Strips.

  • If you have sutures, they’ll dissolve on their own. They won’t need to be removed.
  • If you have staples, they’ll probably be removed 10 to 14 days after your surgery. You’ll need to come back to the clinic to have them removed. This is done in your doctor’s office and isn’t painful.
  • If you have Steri-Strips or Dermabond, they’ll loosen and may fall or peel off on their own. If they haven’t fallen off within 10 days, you can take them off. Don’t take them off before then.

Check your incision(s) for signs of infection every day until your healthcare provider tells you they’re healed. Call your healthcare provider if:

  • The skin around your incision is very red.
  • The skin around your incision is getting redder.
  • The area around your incision is starting to swell.
  • Swelling around your incision is getting worse.
  • The skin around your incision is warmer than usual.
  • You see drainage that looks like pus (thick and milky).
  • Your incision smells bad.
  • Your pain is getting worse.
  • You have a fever of 101 °F (38.3 °C) or higher.

To prevent infection, don’t let anyone touch your incision(s). Clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before you touch your incision(s).

Showering

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser (such as Hibiclens) every day until your staples are removed. It’s OK to get your sutures, staples, Dermabond, or Steri-Strips wet. Don’t let your incision be directly under the shower stream for too long.

During your shower, use the 4% CHG solution to gently wash your incision(s). Don’t scrub or use a washcloth on them. This could irritate them and keep them from healing. After your shower, gently pat your incision(s) dry with a clean towel. Let them air dry completely before getting dressed. You can also use a blow dryer on the “cool” setting to dry the area.

When your staples are removed, your healthcare provider will tell if you can stop showering with a 4% CHG solution. Keep showering once day for 4 weeks after your surgery with a gentle, fragrance-free soap (such as Dove®). Don’t use any harsh soaps or scented body washes.

Don’t take tub baths or go swimming until your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

Managing vaginal spotting or bleeding

It’s common to have some vaginal spotting or light bleeding for about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. Use a pad or a panty liner so you can see how much you’re spotting or bleeding. Don’t use a tampon.

If you have heavy bleeding (you’re bleeding through a pad every 1 to 2 hours), call your healthcare provider right away.

Sexual activity

Don’t put anything in your vagina or have vaginal intercourse (sex) for 8 weeks after your surgery. Some people will need to wait longer than 8 weeks, so speak with your healthcare provider before starting to have vaginal sex again.

Managing changes in bowel function

If part of your colon was removed, the part that’s left will adapt to this change. It will start to adapt shortly after your surgery. During this time, you may have gas, cramps, or changes in your bowel habits (such as frequent bowel movements).

If you have soreness around your anus from having frequent bowel movements:

  • Apply zinc oxide ointment (Desitin®) to the skin around your anus. This helps prevent irritation.
  • Don’t use harsh toilet tissue. You can use a flushable nonalcohol wipe instead.
  • Take medication if your healthcare provider prescribes it.

Eating and drinking

If you have gas or feel bloated, avoid foods that can cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, onions, cabbage, and cauliflower.

Parts of your colon can be removed without having a major impact on your nutritional health. However, while your remaining colon is adjusting, your body may not absorb nutrients, liquids, vitamins, and minerals as well as before your surgery. It’s important to drink plenty of liquids and make sure you’re getting enough nutrients while you’re recovering from your surgery.

If you have questions about your diet, ask to see a clinical dietitian nutritionist.

Driving

Don’t drive until your surgeon tells you it’s OK. This will be sometime after your first follow-up appointment after surgery. If you’re still taking your prescribed pain medication, your surgeon may want you to wait longer before driving. The pain medication can slow your reflexes and responses, making it unsafe to drive. Also, you use your abdominal muscles (abs) when you brake, so driving may cause discomfort.

Traveling

It’s OK to travel after surgery. If you’re traveling by plane within a few weeks after your surgery, make sure you get up and walk every hour. Be sure to stretch your legs, drink plenty of liquids, and keep your feet elevated when possible.

Going back to work

The time it takes to return to work depends on the type of work you do, the type of surgery you had, and how fast your body heals. Most people can go back to work about 4 to 6 weeks after the surgery.

Physical activity and exercise

Check with your healthcare provider before you do any heavy lifting. Most people shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) for at least 6 weeks after surgery. Ask your healthcare provider how long you should avoid heavy lifting.

Doing aerobic exercise, such as walking and stair climbing, will help you gain strength and feel better. Gradually increase the distance you walk. Climb stairs slowly, resting or stopping as needed.

Don’t go jogging or do Pilates or yoga. Ask your healthcare provider before starting more strenuous exercises.

Managing your feelings

You may have new and upsetting feelings after a surgery for a serious illness. Many people say they felt weepy, sad, worried, nervous, irritable, or angry at one time or another. You may find that you cannot control some of these feelings. If this happens, it’s a good idea to seek emotional support. Your healthcare provider can refer you to MSK’s Counseling Center. You can also reach them by calling 646-888-0200.

The first step in coping is to talk about how you feel. Family and friends can help. We can also reassure, support, and guide you. It’s always a good idea to let us know how you, your family, and your friends are feeling emotionally. Many resources are available to you and your family. We’re here to help you and your family and friends handle the emotional aspects of your illness. We can help no matter if you’re in the hospital or at home.

Follow-up appointments after surgery

Your first appointment after surgery will be 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. Your nurse will give you instructions on how to make this appointment, including the phone number to call. Your healthcare provider will discuss your test results with you in detail during this appointment.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever of 101 °F (38.3 °C) or higher.
  • You have pain that doesn’t get better after taking pain medication.
  • There’s redness, drainage, or swelling near your incision(s).
  • You have heavy vaginal bleeding.
  • Your calves are swollen or tender.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You have any shortness of breath or trouble breathing.
  • You don’t have any bowel movement for 3 days or longer.
  • You have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea (loose or watery bowel movements).
  • You have any questions or concerns.

Contact information

Monday through Friday from to , call your healthcare provider’s office.

After , during the weekend, and on holidays, call 212-639-2000 and ask to speak to the person on call for your healthcare provider.

Support services

This section has a list of support services. They may help you as you get ready for your surgery and recover after your surgery.

As you read this section, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

MSK support services

Admitting Office
212-639-7606
Call if you have questions about your hospital admission, such as asking for a private room.

Anesthesia
212-639-6840
Call if you have questions about anesthesia.

Blood Donor Room
212-639-7643
Call for information if you’re interested in donating blood or platelets.

Bobst International Center
332-699-7968
We welcome patients from around the world and offer many services to help. If you’re an international patient, call for help arranging your care.

Counseling Center
www.msk.org/counseling
646-888-0200
Many people find that counseling helps them. Our Counseling Center offers counseling for individuals, couples, families, and groups. We can also prescribe medicine to help if you feel anxious or depressed. Ask a member of your care team for a referral or call the number above to make an appointment.

Food Pantry Program
646-888-8055
We give food to people in need during their cancer treatment. Talk with a member of your care team or call the number above to learn more.

Integrative Medicine Service
www.msk.org/integrativemedicine
Our Integrative Medicine Service offers many services to complement (go along with) traditional medical care. For example, we offer music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy. Call 646-449-1010 to make an appointment for these services.

You can also schedule a consultation with a healthcare provider in the Integrative Medicine Service. They’ll work with you to make a plan for creating a healthy lifestyle and managing side effects. Call 646-608-8550 to make an appointment for a consultation.

MSK Library
library.mskcc.org
212-639-7439
You can visit our library website or call to talk with the library reference staff. They can help you find more information about a type of cancer. You can also visit the library’s Patient and Health Care Consumer Education Guide.

Nutrition Services
www.msk.org/nutrition
212-639-7312
Our Nutrition Service offers nutritional counseling with one of our clinical dietitian nutritionists. Your clinical dietitian nutritionist will talk with you about your eating habits. They can also give advice on what to eat during and after treatment. Ask a member of your care team for a referral or call the number above to make an appointment.

Patient and Community Education
www.msk.org/pe
Visit our patient and community education website to search for educational resources, videos, and online programs.

Patient Billing
646-227-3378
Call if you have questions about preauthorization with your insurance company. This is also called preapproval.

Patient Representative Office
212-639-7202
Call if you have questions about the Health Care Proxy form or concerns about your care.

Perioperative Nurse Liaison
212-639-5935
Call if you have questions about MSK releasing any information while you’re having surgery.

Private Duty Nurses and Companions
917-862-6373
You can request private nurses or companions to care for you in the hospital and at home. Call to learn more.

Rehabilitation Services 
www.msk.org/rehabilitation 
Cancers and cancer treatments can make your body feel weak, stiff, or tight. Some can cause lymphedema (swelling). Our physiatrists (rehabilitation medicine doctors), occupational therapists (OTs), and physical therapists (PTs) can help you get back to your usual activities.

  • Rehabilitation medicine doctors diagnose and treat problems that affect how you move and do activities. They can design and help coordinate your rehabilitation therapy program, either at MSK or somewhere closer to home. Call Rehabilitation Medicine (Physiatry) at 646-888-1929 to learn more.
  • An OT can help if you’re having trouble doing usual daily activities. For example, they can recommend tools to help make daily tasks easier. A PT can teach you exercises to help build strength and flexibility. Call Rehabilitation Therapy at 646-888-1900 to learn more.

Resources for Life After Cancer (RLAC) Program
646-888-8106
At MSK, care does not end after your treatment. The RLAC Program is for patients and their families who have finished treatment.

This program has many services. We offer seminars, workshops, support groups, and counseling on life after treatment. We can also help with insurance and employment issues.

Sexual Health Programs
Cancer and cancer treatments can affect your sexual health, fertility, or both. MSK’s sexual health programs can help you before, during, or after your treatment.

Social Work
www.msk.org/socialwork
212-639-7020
Social workers help patients, families, and friends deal with common issues for people who have cancer. They provide individual counseling and support groups throughout your treatment. They can help you communicate with children and other family members.

Our social workers can also help refer you to community agencies and programs. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, they also have information about financial resources. Call the number above to learn more.

Spiritual Care
212-639-5982
Our chaplains (spiritual counselors) are available to listen, help support family members, and pray. They can contact community clergy or faith groups, or simply be a comforting companion and a spiritual presence. Anyone can ask for spiritual support. You do not have to have a religious affiliation (connection to a religion).

MSK’s interfaith chapel is located near Memorial Hospital’s main lobby. It’s open 24 hours a day. If you have an emergency, call 212-639-2000. Ask for the chaplain on call.

Tobacco Treatment Program
www.msk.org/tobacco
212-610-0507
If you want to quit smoking, MSK has specialists who can help. Call to learn more.

Virtual Programs
www.msk.org/vp
We offer online education and support for patients and caregivers. These are live sessions where you can talk or just listen. You can learn about your diagnosis, what to expect during treatment, and how to prepare for your cancer care.

Sessions are private, free, and led by experts. Visit our website to learn more about Virtual Programs or to register.

External support services

Access-A-Ride
web.mta.info/nyct/paratran/guide.htm
877-337-2017
In New York City, the MTA offers a shared ride, door-to-door service for people with disabilities who can’t take the public bus or subway.

Air Charity Network
www.aircharitynetwork.org
877-621-7177
Provides travel to treatment centers.

American Cancer Society (ACS)
www.cancer.org
800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345)
Offers a variety of information and services, including Hope Lodge, a free place for patients and caregivers to stay during cancer treatment.

Cancer and Careers
www.cancerandcareers.org
646-929-8032
A resource for education, tools, and events for employees with cancer.

CancerCare
www.cancercare.org
800-813-4673
275 Seventh Avenue (Between West 25th & 26th Streets)
New York, NY 10001
Provides counseling, support groups, educational workshops, publications, and financial assistance.

Cancer Support Community
www.cancersupportcommunity.org
Provides support and education to people affected by cancer.

Caregiver Action Network
www.caregiveraction.org
800-896-3650
Provides education and support for people who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability.

Corporate Angel Network
www.corpangelnetwork.org
866-328-1313
Offers free travel to treatment across the country using empty seats on corporate jets.

Good Days
www.mygooddays.org
877-968-7233
Offers financial assistance to pay for copayments during treatment. Patients must have medical insurance, meet the income criteria, and be prescribed medicine that’s part of the Good Days formulary.

HealthWell Foundation
www.healthwellfoundation.org
800-675-8416
Provides financial assistance to cover copayments, health care premiums, and deductibles for certain medicines and therapies.

Joe’s House
www.joeshouse.org
877-563-7468
Provides a list of places to stay near treatment centers for people with cancer and their families.

LGBT Cancer Project
www.lgbtcancer.com
Provides support and advocacy for the LGBT community, including online support groups and a database of LGBT-friendly clinical trials.

LIVESTRONG Fertility
www.livestrong.org/we-can-help/fertility-services
855-744-7777
Provides reproductive information and support to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments have risks associated with infertility.

Look Good Feel Better Program
www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org
800-395-LOOK (800-395-5665)
This program offers workshops to learn things you can do to help you feel better about your appearance. For more information or to sign up for a workshop, call the number above or visit the program’s website.

National Cancer Institute
www.cancer.gov
800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237)

National LGBT Cancer Network
www.cancer-network.org
Provides education, training, and advocacy for LGBT cancer survivors and those at risk.

Needy Meds
www.needymeds.org
Lists Patient Assistance Programs for brand and generic name medicines.

NYRx
www.health.ny.gov/health_care/medicaid/program/pharmacy.htm
Provides prescription benefits to eligible employees and retirees of public sector employers in New York State.

Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation
www.panfoundation.org
866-316-7263
Gives help with copayments for patients with insurance.

Patient Advocate Foundation
www.patientadvocate.org
800-532-5274
Provides access to care, financial assistance, insurance assistance, job retention assistance, and access to the national underinsured resource directory.

Professional Prescription Advice
www.pparx.org
888-477-2669
Helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get free or low-cost medicines.

Red Door Community (formerly known as Gilda’s Club)
www.reddoorcommunity.org
212-647-9700
A place where people living with cancer find social and emotional support through networking, workshops, lectures, and social activities.

RxHope
www.rxhope.com
877-267-0517
Provides assistance to help people get medicines they have trouble affording.

Triage Cancer
www.triagecancer.org
Provides legal, medical, and financial information and resources for cancer patients and their caregivers.

Educational resources

This section lists the educational resources mentioned in this guide. They will help you get ready for your surgery and recover after your surgery.

As you read these resources, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

For information about lymphedema, you can also read the New York State Department of Health’s resource Understanding Lymphedema.

Last Updated

Friday, February 2, 2024

Tell us what you think

Tell us what you think

Your feedback will help us improve the educational information we provide. Your care team cannot see anything you write on this feedback form. Please do not use it to ask about your care. If you have questions about your care, contact your healthcare provider.

While we read all feedback, we cannot answer any questions. Please do not write your name or any personal information on this feedback form.

Questions Yes Somewhat No
Please do not write your name or any personal information.