Surgery for Colon Cancer

Surgery is usually the first course of action against colon cancer. Even patients with stage III colon cancers can be treated with surgery. When you come to Siteman for colon cancer surgery, you’ll be in the hands of expert surgeons who specialize in colon procedures. They’ll use minimally invasive and even robotic techniques whenever possible to make your recovery easier and keep risks down.

Surgery for colon cancer

Patients with colon cancer and patients who are at extremely high risk of colon cancer may need a number of different procedures. The most common is a partial colectomy.

Partial colectomy

A partial colectomy is an operation to remove a section of the colon. Because the colon is essentially a long tube, surgeons can take out the diseased area as well as a margin of healthy tissue on each side. They will then reconnect the two sides of the colon. Surgeons will also remove the lymph nodes closest to the cancer site to stage the cancer and plan for additional treatments, if necessary.

Will I need an ostomy bag after a partial colectomy?

Though some patients require an ostomy bag for a period of time after this surgery, most go on to achieve normal bowel function.

Is a partial colectomy a minimally invasive procedure?

At Siteman, more than 60 percent of the patients who receive partial colectomies are able to have them using minimally invasive or laparoscopic techniques. Innovative robotic arms sometimes hold the instruments while the surgeon manipulates them from a console.

Smaller incisions limit blood loss, reduce pain and shorten recovery times. Your surgeon will let you know if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive partial colectomy.


A metastasectomy is a procedure to remove colon cancer that has metastasized to another organ, such as the liver or the lungs. Washington University colorectal surgeons at Siteman have extensive experience performing these procedures and will try to find ways to eliminate your colon cancer from other locations in the body.

Preventive colon surgery

Patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) can develop hundreds or thousands of colon polyps before age 18-22, so the best way to prevent colon cancer is to remove the colon. This procedure is sometimes called a total colectomy. While the thought of having a major organ removed may seem scary, it’s certainly possible to live and thrive without a colon.

In the unlikely event that you are a candidate for this procedure, your physicians and care team will discuss the implications of life without a colon in great detail to help you to make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed.

What is an ostomy?

An ostomy is a mechanism to allow for the drainage of waste if the colon is unable to function. Surgeons will create an opening (stoma) from the colon to the outside of the body. A bag covers the opening and collects stool as it drains. In most cases, ostomies are temporary measures that allow the colon to heal following a partial colectomy. This is rarely a long-term solution for colon cancer patients.

If you receive an ostomy following a colectomy, a special ostomy nurse will train you how to use it and care for it.

How do you maintain an ostomy bag?

The process of emptying, changing, cleaning and managing your stoma and ostomy bag system may seem daunting at first. Your doctor will give you advice on how to manage your ostomy bag and care for your stoma. There are a wide variety of ostomy products on the market. Be patient with yourself and don’t give up when it feels difficult – in time, you will find what works best for you.

I'm self-conscious about having an ostomy bag. Will it be visible through clothing?

Ostomy bags are designed to be slim and to block any smell from escaping, which can make them practically undetectable underneath clothes. There are ways to conceal your bag in almost any situation. There are articles of clothing (including swimwear and underwear) specially designed to help conceal your bag. You can also get decorative sleeves and pouches designed for ostomy bags for everyday use.

Can you swim with an ostomy bag?

You can still swim with an ostomy bag! One of the great things about ostomy bags is that they’re water-resistant. You’ll have to make some adjustments (like ensuring a good seal before and after swimming, and protecting your stoma from bumping and irritation), but you certainly don’t have to abandon your favorite activities!