Bowel cancer - Living with 

Living with bowel cancer 

Being diagnosed with cancer is a tough challenge for most people. There are several ways to find support to help you cope.

Not all of them work for everybody, but one or more should be helpful:

  • Talk to your friends and family. They can be a powerful support system.
  • Get in touch with others in the same situation as you.
  • Learn about your condition.
  • Don't try to do too much at once. 
  • Make time for yourself.

Want to know more?

  • Beating Bowel Cancer offers support services to people with bowel cancer. The nurse advisory line is available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday, and from 9am to 4pm on Fridays, call 08450 719 301 or you can email the nurse. They also offer patient-to-patient and relative-to-relative support networks for all stages of disease (including specialist stage 4 support).
  • Heatlthalkonline: Colorectal cancer
  • Beating Bowel Cancer: Survivorship
  • Bowel Cancer UK: Going home (PDF, 244KB)
  • Bowel Cancer UK: Staying healthy after bowel cancer (PDF, 184KB)

Talk to others  hide

Your GP or nurse may be able to reassure you if you have questions, or you may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist telephone helpline operator. Your GP surgery will have information on these. Some people find it helpful to talk to others with bowel cancer at a local support group or through an internet chat room.

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Emotional effects  show

Having cancer can cause a range of emotions. These may include shock, anxiety, relief, sadness and depression. Different people deal with serious problems in different ways. It is hard to predict how knowing you have cancer will affect you. However, you and your loved ones may find it helpful to know about the feelings that people diagnosed with cancer have reported.

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Recovering from colon or rectal surgery show

Surgeons and anaesthetists have found that using an “enhanced recovery programme” after bowel cancer surgery helps patients recover more quickly.

Most hospitals now use this programme. It involves giving you more information before the operation about what to expect, avoiding giving you strong laxatives to clean the bowel before surgery, and in some cases giving you a sugary drink two hours before the operation to give you energy. 

During and after the operation, the anaesthetist controls the amount of IV fluid you need very carefully, and after the operation you will be given painkillers that allow you to get up and out of bed by the next day.

Most people will be able to eat a light diet the day after their operation.

To reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs), you may be given special compression stockings that help prevent blood clots, or a regular injection with heparin until you are fully mobile.

A nurse or physiotherapist will help you get out of bed and regain your strength so you can go home again within a few days.

With the enhanced recovery programme, most people are well enough to go home within five to six days of their operation. The timing depends on when you and the doctors and nurses looking after you agree you are well enough to go home.

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Coping with a colostomy   show

If you need a colostomy, you may feel worried about how you look and how others will react to you. Information and advice about living with a stoma (including stoma care, stoma products and ‘stoma-friendly’ diets) is available via the ileostomy and colostomy topics.

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Diet after bowel surgery show

If you have had part of your colon removed, it is likely that your stools (faeces) will be looser because one of the functions of the colon is to absorb water from the stools. This may mean that you experience repeated episodes of diarrhoea.

You should inform your care team if diarrhoea becomes a problem because medication is available to help control symptoms.

You may find some foods upset your bowels, particularly during the first few months after your operation.

Different foods can upset different people, but food and drink that is commonly known to cause problems include:

  • rich and fatty food
  • fruit and vegetables that are high in fibre, such as beans, cabbages, apples and bananas
  • fizzy drinks, such as cola and beer

You may find it useful to keep a food diary to record the effects of different foods on your bowel.

If you find that you are having continual problems with your bowels as a result of your diet, and/or you are finding it difficult to maintain a healthy diet, you should contact your care team. You may need to be referred to a dietitian for further advice.

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Sex and bowel cancer  show

Having cancer and its treatment may affect how you feel about relationships and sex. Although most people are able to enjoy a normal sex life after bowel cancer treatment, if you have had a colostomy you may feel self-conscious or uncomfortable.

Talking about how you feel with your partner may help you both to support each other. Or you may feel you’d like to talk to someone else about your feelings. Your doctor or nurse will be able to help.

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Financial concerns show

A diagnosis of cancer can cause money problems because you are unable to work or someone you are close to has to stop working to look after you. There is financial support available for carers and for you if you have to stay off work for a while or have to stop work because of your sickness. 

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medication, including that which treats unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for five years and you can apply for a certificate by speaking to your GP or cancer specialist.

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Dealing with dying  show

If you are told there is nothing more that can be done to treat your bowel cancer, your GP will still provide you with support and pain relief. This is called palliative care. Support is also available for your family and friends.

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Page last reviewed: 29/08/2012

Next review due: 29/08/2014


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