If you need a colostomy for bowel cancer
This page tells you about colostomies for bowel cancer. You can find the following information
What a colostomy is like
The surgeon makes an opening in your abdomen called a stoma. Your bowel opens onto it and the faeces (stool) collects in a bag that fits over it. The stoma does not hurt. It will be swollen just after your operation, but it will get smaller.
Looking after your stoma
Learning to look after a colostomy can be worrying at first. The stoma nurse will visit you before and after your operation, and will help you learn to look after your stoma. Your nurse will look after your colostomy and change your bag for the first few days.
You may want a relative there when the nurse shows you how to look after the colostomy. They can help you remember what to do and help out when you get home. Your stoma nurse will give you a number you can ring for advice and support if you need to. The stoma nurse or a district nurse may also visit you at home to make sure you are coping.
Your stoma nurse will make sure you have colostomy bags to take home. You will have to get more from the chemist or a local stockist. All colostomy supplies are free, but your GP needs to give you a signed prescription.
There is information about coping with a colostomy in the living with bowel cancer section.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating bowel cancer section.
The surgeon forms a colostomy by stitching the end of the large bowel (colon) to a hole cut in the skin of your abdomen. So you have an opening on the abdomen called a stoma. The stoma is round or oval and looks moist and red, like the inside of your mouth. It doesn't 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.
The stoma will be swollen just after your operation but it will get smaller and flatter. Faeces (stools) pass out of the stoma. 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.
Some people with bowel cancer have a temporary colostomy. The colostomy 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 stoma.
Stoma nurses are experienced in looking after colostomies and teaching you how to look after them. A nurse will probably visit you on the ward before and after your operation. At the first visit, the nurse will answer your questions and show you the type of colostomy bag you will be using at first. 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 colostomy, clean the stoma and change the bags. They will also help you to find which type of colostomy bag is the best for you.
Learning to look after a colostomy 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 colostomy together in a bag or in one place. That way, you won't be halfway through and realise that something vital is missing.
Talk to your stoma nurse or the ward nurses about the kind of support you feel 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 colostomy. 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 colostomy 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.
Some people flush out their colostomy once or twice a day, so that they don't need to wear a colostomy bag. They wear a colostomy plug or bung over the stoma instead. Your stoma nurse can show you how to flush the colostomy if you want to try that.
The Bladder and Bowel Foundation has lists of stockists of colostomy equipment. They also give support and information for anyone with a colostomy. You can find details of other supportive organisations on our bowel cancer organisations page.
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