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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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What to Expect During Colorectal Cancer Surgery

Preparing for Surgery

Your surgeon will meet with you to answer any questions you may have before your colorectal cancer procedure. You will be asked questions about your health history and a general physical exam will be performed. If your intestine requires cleaning, you will be given a prescription for a laxative medicine to take the evening before the surgery.

All patients are generally asked to provide a blood sample. Depending on your age and general health, you may also have an EKG (electrocardiogram), a chest X-ray, lung function tests, or other tests. You may also need to meet with another doctor prior to surgery.

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Finally, you will meet with an anesthesiologist, who will discuss the type of pain medication (anesthesia) you will be given for surgery, and you will also learn about pain control after the operation.

The Night Before Colorectal Cancer Surgery

You will need to take the prescribed laxative medicine the evening before surgery. It is important to follow the directions carefully and take all of this medicine. This step will decrease your risk of developing an infection from bacteria normally present in the intestine.

Do not eat or drink anything by mouth after midnight the evening before surgery.

The Day of Colorectal Cancer Surgery

An intravenous (IV) tube will be inserted into a vein in your arm to deliver drugs and fluids.

Once the surgeon is ready for you, you will be taken to the operating room.

When you arrive in the operating room, the nurses will help you onto the operating table. The anesthesiologist will inject medicine into your IV that will put you to sleep. After you are asleep, the nurses will clean your abdomen with antibacterial soap and cover you with sterile drapes.

If you are having traditional "open" colon surgery, your surgeon will make an incision in your abdomen. Then he or she will remove the cancer and some normal colon on either side of your cancer, as well as the nearby lymph nodes.

Laparoscopic surgery is a method of surgery that is much less invasive than traditional surgery. Tiny incisions are made to create a passageway for a special instrument called a laparoscope. This thin telescope-like instrument with a miniature video camera and light source is used to transmit images to a video monitor. The surgeon watches the video screen while performing the procedure with small instruments that pass through small tubes placed in the incisions. Your surgeon will place a small needle just below your bellybutton and insert the needle into your abdominal cavity. This needle is connected to sterile tubing through which carbon dioxide is passed into the abdominal cavity. The gas lifts the abdominal wall away from the organs below to create space to give your surgeon a better view of your abdominal cavity once the laparoscope is in place.

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