Colorectal Cancer

Ileostomy after bowel cancer surgery

An ileostomy is a surgical procedure in which the ileum (part of the small bowel) is brought out onto the abdomen so that bowel movements can be collected in a bag worn over the opening or stoma. It functions up to 8 times a day and the waste that passes into the bag is semi-liquid so the bag needs to be emptied frequently. 

Ileostomies can be temporary or permanent. This depends on whether it is possible for the surgeon to reconnect the bowel once the tumour has been removed and healing has taken place. Some people have their temporary ileostomies reversed after a matter of weeks while others have to wait much longer. Occasionally complications mean that reversal proves impossible and the ileostomy must become permanent.

For someone whose bowel function has lowered their quality of life, a permanent ileostomy can bring positive change. One man, who has lived with an ileostomy for over 30 years, describes what his life was like before his ileostomy and how the operation improved it.

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For those whose ileostomies are relatively recent, learning to live with them can be a challenge. Some people had taken a positive approach to their ileostomy. One man experienced no real difficulty in coping but pointed out that his situation was made easier by knowing other people who had one.

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The majority of people had temporary ileostomies and found them difficult and, at times, traumatic, to live with. One woman describes how, at first, she couldn't bear to deal with her ileostomy but eventually came to terms with it. For others the ileostomy contributed to low self-esteem and made them feel like an invalid. For some, dealing with the ileostomy was the lowest point of their cancer experience. Several people had had traumatic experiences with their ileostomies which had caused them to weep with frustration or humiliation. 

Specialist stoma nurses help people learn to manage their ileostomies.

One man describes how a visit from two Internal Pouch Support Group (Ileostomy Association) members helped him come to terms with his situation.

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For more on ileostomy see'  'Learning to manage a stoma'; 'Daily living with a stoma'; 'Sexuality and relationships with a stoma'; 'Feelings about having a stoma'; and 'Information and support for stoma patients'.

For more on reversal operations see' 'Stoma reversal operations'.

Last reviewed August 2016.

Last updated August 2016.

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