Purpose of the research: The aim of this research was to explore participants' qualitative perspectives on bowel symptom experiences and management strategies following sphincter saving surgery for rectal cancer.Methods and sample: The data presented in this paper were gleaned from a semi-structured question that formed part of a larger multi-site quantitative correlational study. From a sample of 143 participants, a total of 77 (62.6%) males and 46 (37.3%) females provided qualitative comments. Participants were aged 30-70 years and over, had undergone sphincter saving surgery for rectal cancer in the past 3-42 months. Data were analysed using pre-determined semi-structured categories.Key results: The study demonstrated the subjective nature of the bowel symptoms experienced. It also highlighted the bowel symptoms that were most problematic and the effect of these symptoms on participants' daily lives. In addition, the self-care strategies that worked best for individual participants in the management of bowel symptoms were identified.Conclusions: There is a need to educate patients on the short-term as well as the long-term bowel symptoms experienced following sphincter saving surgery for rectal cancer. Nurses have an important contribution to make in facilitating patients to choose from a range of self-care strategies to help them manage their bowel symptoms postoperatively. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.