There are several reasons for colorectal surgery so it’s difficult to generalise about the results. Surgeons often perform this surgery for colon cancer, but it may also be used for other conditions where the aim is to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
For removal of colon cancer, the effectiveness of the surgery can depend on how advanced your cancer is, whether your surgeon can remove it completely and whether it has already spread. Your surgeon may recommend additional therapies, e.g. chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, which can improve your results.
As with any medical procedure there are some potential risks. The chance of complications depends on the type of procedure that you’re having and other factors, including your general health.
Common conditions that may affect your outcome include diabetes, obesity and infection. Smokers are also at a higher risk of complications following surgery. You won’t be able to smoke during your hospital stay so this could be a good opportunity to quit.
The most common complications of colorectal surgery are:
Your risk of infection after colorectal surgery is slightly higher compared to other operations. Good bowel preparation before surgery can reduce your risk of infection. Your surgeon and anaesthetist are likely to give you antibiotics at the time of your surgery to reduce the risk.
Between 2—25% of people develop an infection after colorectal surgery. Your risk depends on many factors including the type and extent of surgery, and your general health.
Some infections will respond to antibiotics, but others require insertion of drains or further surgery. Some people develop infections in other areas of their body like the urinary tract or chest.
Deep vein thrombosis/pulmonary embolism
A blood clot that develops in a vein after surgery is known as a deep vein thrombosis. Occasionally, these clots travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. This is a serious complication that can be fatal in rare cases. Your surgeon will probably prescribe medication to lower your risk of blood clots.
While some bleeding can be expected during and after surgery, a blood transfusion is rarely required.
Sometimes other organs or another part of your bowel are injured during surgery.
If the surgery is in the rectal area, there’s a small risk of damage to the nerves that allow men to ejaculate and an even smaller risk of damage to the nerves that enable an erection.
Adhesions are scar tissues which form between abdominal tissue and organs. They can cause abdominal pain and infertility in women. The symptoms of adhesions may occur months to years after surgery.
Where two pieces of bowel have been cut and re-joined, a leak can occur. This is called an anastomotic leak. It’s a serious complication and your surgeon may need to give you a stoma to repair it. In rare cases an anastomotic leak can be fatal.
Complications can include:
- retraction of your stoma (caused by your stoma being too short) where the stoma sits below your skin level
- prolapse (where the stoma sticks out more than usual)
- stenosis (caused by the opening of your stoma being too narrow) narrowing of the opening of the stoma
- Parastomal hernia (a bulge in your abdominal wall next to your stoma)
- inadequate blood supply leading to necrosis (death) of stoma tissue.
Complications associated with a stoma affect around 25% of patients. Some of these can occur days or weeks after your surgery.
Ask your surgeon about the results and risks associated with your procedure. Also ask about their own rates of patient satisfaction and the rate of complications following the procedures they’ve performed.