After having ovarian cancer surgery

You usually wake up in the recovery unit before moving back to your ward.

If you have had a big operation, you may wake up in intensive care (ICU) or a high dependency recovery unit. You usually move back to the ward within a day or so.

In the ICU you have one to one nursing care. And in the high dependency unit you have very close nursing care. Your surgeon and anaesthetist also keep an eye on your progress.

These units are busy and often noisy places that some people find strange and disorienting. You'll feel drowsy because of the anaesthetic and painkillers.

Tubes and drains

When you wake up after your operation you will have a few tubes in place. This can be frightening, so it helps to know what they’re for.

You may have:

  • a drip into your arm to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking again
  • a tube (catheter) into your bladder to drain your urine
  • a fine tube into the wound to drain away fluid and help the wound to heal
Diagram showing a urinary catheter in a woman
How a catheter works

You might also have an oxygen mask on.

Electronic pumps can control any medicines you have through your drip.

Your wound

Your wound is likely to run from your pubic hairline up to your belly button, or above it.

You usually have a dressing over your wound after the operation. After a couple of days your nurse takes the dressing off and cleans the wound.

If you have wound drains, these stay in until they stop draining fluid. They can usually come out a couple of days after your operation.

You may have stitches that gradually dissolve, so you don't need to have them taken out. Other types of stitches or clips stay in for at least 7 to 10 days. Your nurse may take them out before you go home. Or a nurse at your GP surgery or a district nurse can usually remove them. Your nurse will give you information before you go home about how to care for your wound.


It's normal to have pain for the first week or so. Your doctor and nurses will give you painkillers. 

Tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you feel pain. They need your help to find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly. 

Immediately after surgery you can have painkillers through either:

  • a drip into your bloodstream that you control (PCA or patient controlled analgesia) 
  • small thin tube put into your back and connected to a pump that gives you a constant dose of painkiller (epidural) 

You'll have painkillers to take home. Follow the instructions your nurse gives you about how often and how to take them. Contact your doctor if you still have pain or if it gets worse. 

Eating and drinking

You are usually able to drink and eat as soon as you feel up to it. This may be a few hours after surgery, as long as you don't feel sick. Your nurse will tell you when you can start drinking and eating.

Getting up

Your nurses and physiotherapists will help you to move around as soon as possible, maybe even the day of your operation. You should have your painkillers before you have to get out of bed.

They will check you’re doing your breathing and leg exercises. This helps you recover and helps to stop chest infections and blood clots.

Going home

You usually go home about 2 to 4 days after your operation.

After this type of abdominal surgery, you need to rest for about 4 to 6 weeks after you come out of hospital. Until this time, you will not be able to:

  • do heavy housework, such as vacuuming
  • carry heavy bags of shopping or washing
  • drive

This is because all these activities put pressure on your abdominal muscles and skin. These need time to heal. It will take longer to get over your operation if you put too much strain on the area.

You will gradually be able to increase the amount you can do. How long this takes varies depending on the type of operation you had. Your surgeon will advise you about this.

If you live alone, or think you'll struggle to manage on your own, tell the nurses at the pre assessment clinic or when you first go into hospital. This way they have time to plan any care you need at home after your operation.

Follow up appointments

You'll have follow up appointments to check your recovery and sort out any problems. They're also your opportunity to raise any concerns you have about your progress. 

You usually see your surgeon a couple of weeks after your operation. They'll examine you and check your wound is healing well.

They'll give you the results of your surgery. And talk about any further treatment you might need.

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, 9th edition
    L Dougherty and S Lister (Editors)
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

Last reviewed: 
01 Feb 2019