Colorectal Cancer

Pain management after bowel cancer surgery

It is normal to experience some pain or discomfort for a few days after surgery but with the variety of drugs and drug delivery systems available pain can be very effectively managed. Some drugs can cause side effects like sickness or occasionally hallucinations, in some people and it may be necessary to try a different method of pain relief if one is unsatisfactory. Pain relief may be delivered by epidural (a small needle inserted into the spine) by PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesia, a machine which releases controlled doses of medication at the push of a button), by injection, or in tablet form.

Only a few people we interviewed remembered any sort of discussion about pain management with a medical professional before their operation. Many people were not given any choices and a considerable number didn't even realise that there were different choices available. Some people were reluctant to use pain relief because they worried about becoming dependent on it. Others were reluctant to tell nurses when they were in pain because they didn't want to be a nuisance. People whose pain management had broken down often had difficulty getting the situation resolved.

Some people experienced highly effective pain management after their operations and were amazed at how pain free their hospital experience was. One man was so impressed with his epidural that he asked for 'a bucket full to take home'. Other people found that their pain control medication was effective but caused unpleasant side effects like sickness or hallucinations.

Others found their pain management to be uneven. People who experienced difficulty at night or at weekends often faced long delays before their problem was dealt with. One woman remembers what it was like having to wait for pain relief at night.

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Several people had been given PCAs without adequate explanation of how to use them. One woman recalls what happened when her PCA failed to relieve her pain. Some people had epidurals which didn't work, leaked or fell out. A woman whose epidural had leaked and then fallen out explains the difficulty she had in getting the situation resolved.

A lack of consultation with patients about their pain was also sometimes a problem. One woman, whose pain was being reasonably well managed, explains what happened when a junior doctor decided to reduce her pain relief without consultation.

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On occasion, pain management broke down completely leaving the patient in a terrible state. One man started off with an epidural that didn't work and 'woke up screaming' with pain. It was a full 10 hours before he received a morphine injection which finally provided some relief. He explains what happened in the meantime.

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Last reviewed August 2016.

Last updated October 2011.


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