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6-minute read

Key facts

  • A hemicolectomy is a type of colectomy — an operation where part of your colon (large intestine) is removed.
  • A hemicolectomy is most often done to treat bowel cancer.
  • You may need a stoma after a hemicolectomy — this may be reversible.

What is a hemicolectomy?

A hemicolectomy is a type of colectomy — an operation where part of your colon (large intestine) is removed.

With a right hemicolectomy, the right side of your colon is removed. This includes:

  • your caecum
  • your appendix
  • your ascending colon
  • part of your transverse colon

With a left hemicolectomy, the left side of your colon is removed. This includes:

  • part of your transverse colon
  • your descending colon

When is a hemicolectomy performed?

A hemicolectomy is most often done to treat bowel cancer.

Other reasons for having a hemicolectomy are:

What are the benefits of a hemicolectomy?

If your doctor has recommended a hemicolectomy, this is because removal of your diseased bowel is the best treatment available.

How to prepare for a hemicolectomy

Before your operation, you will have some tests to confirm your diagnosis. Your doctor will also want to check that you are fit and well for the procedure.

Before having a hemicolectomy you will need to take 'bowel prep' medicine. This is to empty your bowel before the procedure.

You may also need to be on a diet of 'clear fluids' before the operation. If you're asked to do this, plan for a quiet time the day or 2 before surgery.

You will also be asked to fast (not have anything to eat or drink) several hours before surgery.

Your doctor may ask you to stop certain medicines before your operation. They may also start you on antibiotics before the operation.

Ask your doctor for more information to help you prepare for the operation.

What happens during a hemicolectomy?

The operation will be done either through a single cut in your abdomen (tummy), or with a laparoscopy ('keyhole' surgery). Keyhole surgery uses a few smaller cuts.

After you are given a general anaesthetic, your surgeon will remove the unhealthy section of your bowel.

Your surgeon will then join the ends of your remaining colon together. This can be done through stitches or staples.

Will I need a stoma?

Sometimes the ends of the bowel can't be joined, so one end is connected to the skin of your 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 (poo) when they pass out of your body. You will need to empty the bag regularly.

In many people, the stoma is reversed once your bowel heals enough to be re-joined. This is done in a later operation.

If you need a stoma, you will be seen by a stoma nurse. These nurses specialise in caring for patients with a stoma. Your stoma nurse will be able to answer any questions you have.

Recovering from a hemicolectomy

A hemicolectomy is major surgery. It can take a few weeks to feel better after the operation. Your doctor will tell you how much time you may need to take off work.

You'll probably feel tired and weak after a hemicolectomy and it will take some time to recover.

When you wake, you'll have a drip in your arm and you'll feel drowsy. A catheter will be used to drain your bladder of urine (wee).

You'll be given medicine to relieve pain. This may be given through your drip.

When you start going to the toilet again, your faeces (poo) will be diarrhoea. It can take several weeks to get back to normal. Let your doctor know if you are having problems.

You may need to stay in hospital for up to 7 days. If you had keyhole surgery, your stay might be shorter.

What are the possible risks of a hemicolectomy?

A hemicolectomy is a major operation with some risks.

These can include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • a leak from where your bowel is connected back together
  • damage to other organs in your abdomen — such as your small intestine or bladder
  • deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in your legs)
  • pulmonary embolism (blood clots in your lungs)

If you notice any problems after your operation, call your doctor or go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Resources and support

Visit the Bowel Cancer Australia website for more information about hemicolectomy.

Visit these pages to learn more about:

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024

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