What is a hemicolectomy?
A hemicolectomy is an operation where one side of the colon (large intestine) is removed. Some people who have this surgery may need a stoma — an opening on the surface of the abdomen connected to the bowel.
Why is hemicolectomy performed?
The usual reasons for hemicolectomy are bowel cancer, polyps, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease or an abdominal injury.
How to prepare for hemicolectomy
If you are going to have hemicolectomy you might need to take 'bowel prep' medicine. This is a type of laxative that empties your bowel for the procedure. You may need to be on a 'clear fluids' only diet prior to the procedure. If you’re asked to do this, plan for a quiet time the day or 2 before surgery.
You will be asked to fast (not have anything to eat or drink) before surgery.
You may need to stop certain medicines temporarily. Check with your doctor.
What happens during hemicolectomy?
After the general anaesthetic is given, the surgeon removes the unhealthy section of the bowel. This is usually done through a single cut in the abdomen, but sometimes this operation may be done laparascopically (‘keyhole’ surgery), through a few smaller cuts. After removing the unhealthy bowel, the surgeon joins the ends of the remaining bowel together.
Sometimes the ends of the bowel cannot be joined, so one end is connected to the skin of the abdomen. This creates an opening known as a stoma. A bag, known as a colostomy bag, is attached around the stoma to store bowel contents as they pass out of the body. You empty the bag regularly. For many people, the stoma is reversed once the bowel heals enough to be rejoined in a later operation.
What to expect after hemicolectomy
A hemicolectomy is major surgery. It will take some time to get over it. When you wake, you'll have a drip in your arm and you’ll feel drowsy. You'll be given medicine to relieve pain, and perhaps antibiotics to prevent infection.
You'll probably feel tired and weak after a hemicolectomy. It can take a few weeks to feel better. Your doctor can advise you how much time you may need off work.
Some people experience constipation or diarrhoea after surgery. Let your doctor know if you are having problems.
You may need to stay in hospital for about 10 days. If you had keyhole surgery, your stay might be shorter.
What can go wrong?
A hemicolectomy is a significant operation with significant risks. Some people have bleeding or infection after surgery. It is also possible for the surgery to damage other organs in the abdomen, or for the bowel to leak. Some people get blood clots in the legs or lungs. If you have this surgery and notice any problems, call your doctor or go quickly to the hospital emergency department.
Visit the Bowel Cancer Australia website for more information about hemicolectomy.
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Last reviewed: December 2021