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What Happens During Colon Cancer Surgery?

Colon Cancer Surgery is Used Regularly as a Way to Treat Colon Cancer


Updated March 14, 2012

Colon cancer surgery often is a first step in treating colon cancer. It helps your doctor understand the extent of your colon cancer and what other treatments you may need. Colon cancer surgery may be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

What is a Colectomy?

The type of colon surgery you receive will depend on the location and size of your cancer. One of the more common colon cancer surgeries is called a colectomy. A colectomy involves removing part of the colon and as many nearby lymph nodes as possible. The colon is reattached, making one long tube again.

The body adapts amazingly well to this surgery. Even if up to one-third of your colon is removed, your body will heal. You may need a special diet immediately after a colectomy surgery. However, you should be able to follow a normal diet again within a few weeks to months, once you recover from surgery.

What is a Colostomy?

If your tumor is large and blocks your colon completely, you may need a colectomy with a colostomy. In this procedure, instead of reconnecting the ends of your colon, the surgeon will create an opening in your mid-section (abdomen) through which your stool can pass into an attached bag.

In many cases, the colostomy is temporary. You will have it during treatment and until your body heals after treatment. Then you will have a procedure, called a colostomy reversal, to reattach the ends of your colon.

How Do I Take Care of a Colostomy?

You will receive training from a nurse on how to take care of your colostomy before you have to do this on your own. Taking care of a colostomy will seem overwhelming and scary at first, but with a little practice, it will become much easier. You can contact your nurse any time with questions. Your nurse’s job is to support you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

In addition to caring for your colostomy using the instructions provided by your nurse, you can make some changes to your diet to make your colostomy easier to manage.


American Cancer Society. Making Treatment Decisions. Accessed: January 21, 2009.

National Cancer Institute. Targeted Cancer Therapies: Questions and Answers. Accessed: January 21, 2009.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Ostomy Nutrition Guide. Accessed: January 21, 2009.

Wilkinson N, Scott-Conner CE. Surgical therapy for colorectal adenocarcinoma. Gastroenterol Clin North Am 2008 37:253-67, ix.

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