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What Happens During a Colectomy?

This type of surgery is also called a resection. It is the most common surgery used to treat colon cancer. During it, the surgeon makes an incision in your abdomen and takes out:

  • The tumor

  • Part of your colon

  • Nearby lymph nodes

Then the surgeon rejoins your colon with stitches or special staples. The connection is called an anastomosis. The surgeon closes up your abdominal wall with stitches that dissolve after several months. Your exterior skin will be closed using staples.

Your doctor removes the staples in 7 to 10 days. Many people return to normal bowel function after a colectomy because other parts of the colon can take over for the part that was removed.

For some earlier stage colon cancers, the surgeon may do a laparoscopic-assisted colectomy. For this operation, the surgeon makes several small incisions in the abdomen instead of one large one. The surgeon then inserts special long instruments through the incisions to remove part of the colon and lymph nodes. One of the instruments has a small video camera on the end to allow the surgeon to see inside the abdomen. Once the part of the colon with the cancer has been freed, one of the incisions is made larger so it can be removed. Because the incisions are smaller than with a standard colectomy, patients may recover slightly faster and have less pain than they do after a standard colectomy.

Metastasectomy. If a limited amount of cancer has spread to other organs such as the liver or lungs, surgery to remove these tumors may help you live longer or even cure the cancer. This is only an option if the main colon tumor can also be removed completely. 

Other ways to destroy metastases. In some cases, small amounts of cancer that has spread can be destroyed through nonsurgical techniques.  For example, cryosurgery uses a thin metal probe to freeze and destroy tumor cells that have spread to your liver. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure that uses a long, thin metal probe to heat and kill tumors that have spread from the rectum to other organs, such as your liver. If you're not a good candidate for a liver resection, cryosurgery, RFA, or other nonsurgical techniques may provide an alternative.