If you need a colostomy

A stoma made from part of your large bowel is called a colostomy. If you have a stoma after your operation, you’ll need some time to adjust. A stoma care nurse will show you how to look after your stoma and how to cope with any problems.

You may find it helpful to talk to someone else who has experience of living with a stoma. Your stoma care nurse can arrange this for you.

Your nurse will show you how to change your stoma bag before you go home from hospital. When changing your stoma bag, it helps to be prepared and give yourself plenty of time. It will get easier with practice.

Having a stoma can affect different parts of your life. You can call your stoma nurse if you’re having trouble coping at home.

Living with a stoma

Some people will need to have a colostomy. This can be daunting at first. Learning to look after a stoma takes time and patience, and no one expects you to be able to cope straight away. Like anything new, it will get easier with time and practice.

In most hospitals, there are specially-trained nurses called stoma care nurses who you’ll usually meet before your operation. They will show you how to look after your stoma and help you cope with any problems.

You may also find it helpful to talk to someone who is used to living with a stoma. Your nurse or doctor can often arrange for a volunteer to visit you and talk to you about the more practical and personal aspects of living with a stoma. This advice can be invaluable, particularly in the first few months after your operation. You can contact the Colostomy Association or our cancer support specialists to talk about any concerns you have.

Before your operation, the nurse or doctor will carefully plan the position of your stoma so that your bag stays in place, whether you are sitting, standing or moving around.

For the first few days after your operation, your nurse will show you how to look after your colostomy and make sure that the bag is emptied and changed as often as necessary. At first, your stoma will be slightly swollen and it can take several weeks before it settles down to its normal size.

As soon as you’re feeling well enough, the nurse will show you how to clean your stoma and change the bags yourself. There are several different types of bag or appliance available, and the nurse will help you choose a suitable one.


Looking after a stoma

When the nurse is showing you how to look after your stoma, it may help for a partner or close relative to be with you. They can help you if you have any difficulties when you get home.

Before you leave hospital, your nurse will make sure that you have a good supply of stoma bags. Before you start to change or empty your bag, make sure that you have plenty of bags and cleaning materials with you. It’s a good idea to keep everything you need in one place, so that you don’t have to search for things at the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time and privacy, so that you can work at your own pace without any interruptions.

Some people with a colostomy avoid wearing a bag by flushing out (irrigating) their colostomy about once a day, although this method doesn’t suit everyone. Your stoma nurse will be able to discuss this with you in more detail.


Stoma supplies

There are different ways of getting stoma supplies when you’re at home. You can get all your supplies from your chemist. Sometimes it’s better to get your supplies direct from a specialised supply company. These may also offer a cut-to-fit and home delivery service. The Colostomy Association has details of companies.

The supplies are free, but you’ll need a prescription from your GP. If you’re aged 16–60, make sure that your doctor signs the form saying that you’re entitled to free prescriptions.


Home support

Once you’re at home, you can phone the stoma nurse if you have any problems. Your GP may also arrange for a district nurse to visit you for a few days when you first leave hospital. They can make sure you’re coping at home, and sort out any problems that you may have with your stoma.

Having a colostomy is a big change in your life. Many people find that they are embarrassed by the stoma, and that it affects the way they feel about their bodies. This can also affect relationships, and some people are uncomfortable about their partner seeing their stoma.

These feelings are a natural part of coming to terms with the changes that a stoma causes, and usually decrease gradually over time.

You can contact our cancer support specialists if you want to chat about any concerns you have.

Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for anal cancer

Surgery used to be the main treatment for anal cancer. For most people with anal cancer, a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy is now more likely to be recommended.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.

Sex life after bowel surgery

Treatments for anal cancer can have some effects on your sex life. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse for advice.