Colon cancer surgery: 5 misconceptions

Dr Ng Kheng Hong, a Consultant Colorectal Surgeon and General Surgeon at KH Ng Colorectal & Minimally Invasive Surgery, addresses some common misconceptions regarding colon cancer surgery.

1. Colon cancer surgery is extremely painful

With traditional open surgery, we normally make a 20 to 30 cm midline cut through the abdomen. This is usually the source of the pain.

However, we now have minimally invasive surgery (also known as laparoscopic surgery), which means our biggest incision is about 4 cm.

Laparoscopic surgery is now routine for gall bladder and appendix and hernia repair so surgeons are very skilled at laparoscopic surgery. And even though we make very small incisions, we are still able to cut out the tumour and join the two ends together inside, most of the time.

There is still a place for open surgery though. Sometimes we have to use it if a lot of the colon has to be removed, or if there is a history of multiple abdominal surgery previously. Cost is another reason we sometimes offer open surgery.

2. After the surgery, you’ll have a stoma (an opening in the abdomen) and you will be stuck with a colostomy bag for the rest of your life

Today, very few patients need a stoma. We can join the parts of the colon together, even if the tumour is close to the anus. Sometimes, we use chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before cutting it so as to make it easier to join.

As a result, the stoma rate is very low unless the tumour is right at the anus.

3. After colon cancer surgery, you’ll need to go to the bathroom all the time and you won’t be able to hold it in if you need to

This is a total myth. For most colon cancer surgeries, the part that is excised is only about 10 to 15 cm.

The average person has 80 cm to 1 m of large intestine, so the effect is minimal. At most, your bowel movement might become more frequent, from once every two days to every day.

As for holding it in, this is another myth. Holding it in is a function of the anus, not the large intestine. As long as the anus is intact, you should be able to hold it in.

4. Colon cancer surgery is serious and you’ll stay in hospital for two weeks or more because there are lots of complications

Today, the average stay is four to five days because of better surgical techniques and antibiotics. Most people are back to work in two weeks.

5. Colon cancer surgery will affect sexual function

With keyhole surgery, we can identify and avoid the nerve that controls sexual functions so there is nothing to worry about.

By Jimmy Yap

POSTED IN Cancer Treatments
TAGS cancer laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery, dr ng kheng hong, misconceptions
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