More than 600,000 people undergo rectum or colon surgery each year for issues big and small. Some colon surgeries address small issues like polyps, while others treat life-changing illnesses like colon cancer and diverticulitis. Maybe you’re looking at colon surgery yourself.

You may not know what to expect during your procedure. The recovery timeline might sound scary. You might also have out-of-date ideas about what the process looks like.

If you or a loved one need colon treatment, you should take a little time to get familiar with the modern process. Knowing how to manage your expectations can make the whole process easier.

Keep reading for more information on your colon surgery procedure. We’ll cover the basics as well as expectations, recent developments, and recovery timelines. 

Colon Surgery Basics

The most common types of surgical procedures involving the colon include polyp removal and colon resection. The former helps to prevent cancer and other colon diseases, while the latter addresses colon issues that have already become severe.

Most colon polyp removals happen at routine colonoscopies. Occasionally a polyp can leave blood in the stool, but even large polyps often present no symptoms. Doctors use different tools for polyp removal, but the process doesn’t cause any pain.

During a more involved colon treatment, doctors cut out a section of the colon and then connect the ends of the remaining parts together using staples. If the surgical team cannot connect the ends, they’ll instead create a new opening from the colon to outside the body called a stoma.

Traditional colon surgery requires doctors to make a single long incision down the midsection to access the colon. Modern surgical work doesn’t always require this. Your doctor might call this an “open” surgery.

An alternative type of colon surgery, called keyhole surgery, involves several small cuts. Doctors place a camera and surgical tools through these small holes and use them to perform the surgery without a single big incision. Your doctor might also call this laparoscopic surgery. 

Different circumstances call for different surgeries. If you have complications like high body weight or an unusual case you might need an open surgery. Many doctors can perform even complex surgeries using laparoscopic tools, though.

What You Can Expect

Colon procedures tend to be long, multi-step processes. If you don’t know what to expect, they can seem intimidating.


Unless you’re heading in for emergency surgery, expect to undergo colon preparation. Colon preparation involves a one to two-day fasting period, in which you cannot consume anything except clear liquids like water and Sprite. You will spend most of the day passing stools until only clear liquid comes out.

By the day of surgery, you should have a clean colon. This minimizes the risk of infection and other complications by removing as much waste and bacteria as possible from your body.


Most colon surgeries take place under anesthesia or sedation. Keyhole and open surgeries use a general anesthetic, while colonoscopies and most polyp removals use moderate sedation.

During a colonoscopy or polyp removal, you will often be awake during the process. The type of sedation used makes it difficult to form memories or feel pain, but allows you to respond to requests from the doctor during the process.

General anesthesia will render you unconscious for the duration of the procedure. This will mimic sleep, though most patients do not feel rested after general anesthesia.


You will wake up in the hospital after your colon procedure. What happens next depends on whether you underwent a colonoscopy, keyhole surgery, or open surgery.

After a colonoscopy or polyp removal, you can often go home within half an hour of waking up. You will need a ride to and from your appointment, as sedation will make it unsafe to drive.

After keyhole surgery, you might remain in the hospital for a few days. This gives your body time to recover from the ordeal and lets doctors watch for serious complications. 

Modern Colon Surgery Technology

Modern innovations in laparoscopic surgery allow some colon treatments to be done through a single small incision. While not every surgery suits this treatment, in some circumstances your surgeon may perform surgery through a single incision in the belly button.

This method, called single incision laparoscopic surgery (SILS), can hide scarring and reduce recovery time. It requires both a skilled surgeon and a case that doesn’t have any contraindications, though.

Recovery Timeline

The recovery timeline for colon surgery depends on your procedure. Routine colonoscopy and polyp removal requires less than a day.

Advancements in colon surgery have reduced recovery times. After laparoscopic surgery, most patients resume regular activity within one to three weeks. Open surgeries require at least three weeks of recovery, with some recovery processes taking as long as two months.

You should expect not to lift heavy objects during the duration of your recovery time. Colon surgery involves a lot of damage to the abdomen, so lifting objects more than ten pounds can lead to delayed healing and complications.

Take Care of Your Colon Health

Colon surgery can seem scary at first, but going into your procedure with an understanding of the risks and the process will make each step easier. New advancements in colon surgery have made the process safer, more reliable, and easier to recover from.

Do you need colon treatment for an issue like cancer or diverticulitis? Do you have another health issue in the abdomen like a hernia or gallbladder problems? Contact our care team for a consultation.