An ostomy is a surgical procedure that creates an opening (a stoma) on the skin of the abdomen to allow the elimination of waste (urine and feces), or on the throat to help with breathing. There are many types of cancer that can require an ostomy, such as bowel cancers, urinary tract cancers, or head and neck cancers. An ostomy may also be required when the tumour or treatment involves an obstruction or interruption of the normal passages.1
There are different types of ostomies:2
- Colostomy: A surgical opening from the large bowel or colon to the abdomen to allow fecal matter to pass to the outside of the body.
- Ileostomy: An opening in the ileum, a part of the small bowel, to the abdomen. Small bowel contents can pass through to the outside of the body.
- Urostomy: An opening in the urinary system where urine can pass to the outside.
- Gastrostomy: Opening from the stomach to the outside of the body, to allow feeding.
- Tracheostomy: Opening from the trachea to protect the airway and provide a new path for air to reach the lungs.
A stoma is the actual opening on the abdominal wall or the throat that ostomy procedures create, and this requires daily maintenance. An enterostomal therapy (ET) nurse can provide the initial education before and after surgery, which involves education on the daily management of the stoma, adjustments to diet, exercise, and social and marital relations. It is possible for a person with an ostomy to lead a normal life, though it may take some getting used to. Some adjustments that may help include:3
- Colostomy: Avoiding foods that caused gas before the ostomy, such as beans, cabbage, and spicy foods.
- Ileostomy: Chew food very well to avoid cramping or difficulty passing through the ostomy.
- Urostomy: Some medications can cause urinary stones, and if you are taking a fluid pill, be aware that your pouch will need to be emptied more frequently.
- Looser clothing may feel more comfortable to wear over the pouch, but many survivors wear bathing suits or close-fitting clothes without any difficulty. The best rule is to wear clothes that make you feel comfortable.
- Water will not hurt an ostomy — bathing, showering, and swimming are all fine.
For more detailed information, please consult Ostomy Canada Society.
Looking for more resources or information about ostomy? Listed below are organizations that provide support groups, counselling, information, and other resources to help those dealing with an ostomy.