Having a stoma
A stoma is a surgically created opening in the abdomen that allows faeces to leave the body. The end of the bowel is brought out through the opening and stitched onto the skin. Some people need a stoma after bowel surgery.
Learn more about:
A temporary stoma is needed only until the newly joined bowel has healed. In this situation, a loop stoma is often used. A loop of the bowel is brought out, and then opened and stitched to the skin. This creates two openings. If you have a temporary stoma, you will have another operation, usually after 3–12 months, to close the stoma and rejoin the bowel. This is called a stoma reversal. The process for reversing the stoma will depend on the type of stoma you have. Less than 10% of people with bowel cancer need a permanent stoma.
Like the inside of the mouth, a stoma is soft, moist, and red or pink in colour. It may be level with the surrounding skin or slightly raised. The stoma itself doesn’t have any feeling, but the skin around it does.
Stomas vary in size and can change shape during the weeks after surgery. A stomal therapy nurse will usually see you before any surgery which may result in a stoma. They will also see you after your operation to teach you how to look after the stoma and give you advice about any changes to your stoma or the skin around it.
A type of stoma made from an opening in the colon (part of the large bowel).
A type of stoma made from an opening in the ileum (part of the small bowel).
A/Prof Craig Lynch, Colorectal Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Tim Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, and Clinical Professor, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, SA; Department of Dietetics, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Hooi Ee, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Debra Furniss, Radiation Oncologist, Genesis CancerCare, QLD; Jocelyn Head, Consumer; Jackie Johnston, Palliative Care and Stomal Therapy Clinical Nurse Consultant, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, NSW; Zeinah Keen, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Elizabeth Murphy, Head, Colorectal Surgical Unit, Lyell McEwin Hospital, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
Life after cancer treatment
Webinars, exercise and nutrition, sexuality programs, and back-to-work support
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, no interest loans and other assistance
Coping with cancer?
Talk with a health professional or someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Nutrition after cancer treatment
Healthy eating habits to help you maintain good nutrition
Nutrition and cancer help for carers
Tips for preparing food for someone with cancer
Exercise and cancer
Exercise has many benefits both during and after cancer treatment, helping with side effects, speeding up recovery, and improving quality of life