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If you need an ileostomy for bowel cancer

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This page tells you about ileostomies for bowel cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

What an ileostomy is like

The small bowel is also called the ileum. An opening onto the skin from inside the body is called a stoma. An ileostomy is formed when a surgeon stitches the end of the small bowel to a hole cut in the skin of your tummy (abdomen). Bowel motions (stools) pass out of the stoma. You wear a bag stuck onto the skin over the stoma to collect the stools. They will be a mixture of bowel liquid and semi solid motion with some wind.

Temporary ileostomy

Some people with bowel cancer have a temporary ileostomy. The ileostomy allows the bowel to heal after the cancer has been removed. A few months later, you have another operation to rejoin the bowel and close the stoma. This is called reversing the ileostomy.

The stoma nurse

Stoma nurses are experienced in looking after ileostomies and teaching you how to look after them. A nurse will visit you on the ward before and after your operation to show you what to do. For the first few days after your operation, your stoma nurse will help you to look after your ileostomy, clean the stoma and change the bags.

Your stoma nurse will make sure you have ileostomy bags to take home. You will have to get more from the chemist or a local stockist. The supplies are free but your GP needs to give you a signed prescription. There is information about coping with an ileostomy in our living with bowel cancer section.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating bowel cancer section.

 

 

What an ileostomy is like

A surgeon creates an ileostomy by stitching the end of the small intestine, or ileum, to a hole that they cut in the skin of your abdomen. The hole is called a stoma. The stoma is round or oval and looks moist and red, like the inside of your mouth. Bowel motions (stools) pass out of the stoma. They will be a mixture of bowel liquid and semi solid motion with some wind. The stoma does not hurt because it has no nerve supply. So you must be careful not to injure it because you won't be able to feel if you have done any damage.

Diagram of a ileostomy with a bag

The stoma is swollen just after your operation but will get smaller and flatter. You wear a bag stuck to the skin over the stoma to collect the stools. The stoma also oozes a white mucus. This is normal and the mucus collects in the bag with the faeces.

 

Temporary ileostomy

Some people with bowel cancer have a temporary ileostomy. The ileostomy allows the bowel to heal after the cancer has been removed. A few months later, you have another operation to rejoin the bowel  and close the stoma. This is called reversing the ileostomy.

 

The stoma nurse

Stoma nurses are experienced in looking after ileostomies and teaching you how to look after them. They will probably visit you on the ward before and after your operation to show you what to do. At the first visit, the nurse will answer your questions and show you the type of ileostomy bag you will be using to start with. You will learn how the bag works and how to fit and empty it. 

For the first few days after your operation your stoma nurse will help you to look after your ileostomy, clean the stoma and change the bags. They will also help you to find which type of ileostomy bag is the best for you.

 

Looking after your stoma

Learning to look after an ileostomy takes time and it can be worrying at first. But you will not be expected to cope on your own. You will find that it gets easier with time.

It is helpful to keep everything you need to change your ileostomy together in a bag or in one place. That way, you won't be halfway through and realise that something vital is missing.

 

Going home

Talk to your stoma nurse or the ward nurses about the kind of support you will need at home. Before you leave hospital you may want the stoma nurse to show your close relatives how to look after the ileostomy. Then they can help out when you get home. 

Your stoma nurse will give you a contact number before you leave the hospital. You can ring them for advice and support, and the nurse may arrange to visit you at home. Or a district nurse may visit for a few days to make sure you are coping.

Your stoma nurse will make sure you have plenty of ileostomy bags to take home. You can get more from the chemist or direct from a local stockist. Make sure that you order more well before you are likely to run out. The supplies are free but your GP needs to give you a signed prescription to get them. If you are between 16 and 65, you will also need to sign a free prescription form.

The Ileostomy and internal pouch support group have lists of stockists for ileostomy equipment. They also give support and information for anyone with an ileostomy. You can find details of other supportive organisations on our bowel cancer organisations page.

There is information about coping with an ileostomy in our living with bowel cancer section.

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Updated: 29 August 2013