What is a colostomy bag?
A colostomy bag, also known as an ostomy bag, ileostomy bag, or stoma bag, is a small, waterproof plastic pouch used to collect waste from the body. During a surgical procedure known as a colostomy, an opening, called a stoma, is formed between the large intestine (colon) and the abdominal wall. The colostomy bag can then collect stool as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract.
Will I need a colostomy (ostomy or ileostomy) bag?
When surgeons need to remove a section of the colon or rectum to effectively remove all the cancer, sometimes reconnecting the healthy parts of the colon isn’t possible. In these cases, the surgeon creates a new path for waste to leave the body through an opening (stoma) in the wall of the abdomen. Waste is collected in a flat pouch worn outside of the body. The operation to create a stoma from the large intestine — the colon — is called a colostomy. Creating a stoma from the small intestine is called an ileostomy.
For most people, this stoma is temporary. Once the colon or rectum heals, the surgeon can reconnect the healthy portions and close the stoma. For some rectal cancer patients, especially those who undergo chemotherapy and radiation prior to surgery, a temporary loop ileostomy will be in place for several weeks to allow healing time and completion of other therapy. When the time is right, the ileostomy is removed with another small surgical procedure. Learn more about ostomy reversal.
Whether or not a colostomy is permanent depends on the cancer’s stage and how close the tumor is located to the muscles that control bowel movements (the sphincter muscles) and how well these muscles function prior to surgery. In certain rectal cancers, chemotherapy and radiation treatment before surgery may reduce the need for a permanent colostomy. However, for some patients, such as those who suffer incontinence, a colostomy can improve quality of life.
Roswell Park performs a high volume of these complex surgeries and a high number of our patients avoid a permanent colostomy.
Living with an ostomy
Whether your ostomy is temporary or permanent, it can be an adjustment. Roswell Park offers an Ostomy Support Group to provide education and support to patients and caregivers learning to manage an ostomy.