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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

Advice to Speed Recovery From Colon Cancer Surgery

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Research suggests that chewing sugarless gum after colon cancer surgery can speed recovery and shorten hospital stays by as much as a third.

The first line of treatment for colon cancer is to remove the primary tumor or tumors. If your colon cancer is confined to polyps or a small area, surgery is probably the only treatment that you need. After major surgery, you will have some pain for two or three days, which is relieved with morphine or other pain medication. You will not be able to eat and will be given intravenous fluids. After a few days, you should be able to eat, and bowel function will resume, although it may take a few days to return to normal function. A typical hospital stay for colorectal surgery is between four and eight days, and full recovery takes about two months.

Now a report in the Archives of Surgery (Volume 141, page 174 ) suggests that chewing sugarless gum after colorectal surgery may help patients to get up and go, shortening hospital stays by a third.

After colon cancer surgery, most patients don’t want food or water, and it takes a few days for bowel function to resume. If the intestinal shutdown lasts much longer, it can lead to longer hospital stays that may expose patients to infection and other complications. Chewing gum triggers the same reflex as eating, stimulating gastrointestinal hormones connected with bowel activity.

The study looked at 34 people who had part of their sigmoid colon removed because of colon cancer or diverticulitis. Half chewed one stick of sugarless gum for about an hour three times a day, starting the morning after colon cancer surgery. The rest were treated as usual. In the chewing-gum group, the time to producing intestinal gas was reduced by 14.8 hours, to feeling hungry by 9.3 hours, and to the first bowel movement by more than a day. The total hospital stay for the gum group was 59.8 hours shorter than the control group, with discharge in 4.3 days instead of 6.8.

Posted in Colon Cancer on February 19, 2008
Reviewed September 2011


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Health Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the Johns Hopkins editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


My husband had his colon take out (whole large intestine) for cancer (stage3 Duke C) about one month ago. He is constantly have pain in belly or the side where the cancer was taken out. Can you tell if this is normalor is his cancer getting worse?

Posted by: zenora | January 13, 2009 6:30 AM

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