Surgery is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer and may be the only treatment needed. The type of operation depends on the location and size of the tumor. Most patients have a partial colectomy. In this operation, the surgeon takes out the part of the colon or rectum that contains the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue.

Usually, lymph nodes near the tumor are removed during surgery to help the doctor be more accurate about the stage of the cancer.

In most cases, the surgeon reconnects the healthy sections of the colon or rectum. This part of the surgery is called anastomosis. If the healthy sections of the colon or rectum cannot be reconnected, the doctor performs a colostomy, creating an opening (stoma) in the abdomen through which solid waste leaves the body. The patient uses a special bag to cover the stoma and collect waste. A colostomy may be temporary or permanent.

A temporary colostomy is sometimes needed to allow the lower colon or the rectum to heal after surgery. Later in a second operation, the surgeon reconnects the healthy sections of the colon or rectum and closes the colostomy. The patient’s bowel functions soon return to normal.

Although it may take some time to adjust to a colostomy, most patients return to their normal lifestyle. A nurse or an enterostomal therapist teaches the patient how to care for a colostomy.

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