How the stoma works
When the bowel moves, wind and waste matter (faeces, stools or poo) come out through the stoma. You cannot control when this happens, but a small disposable bag is worn on the outside of the body to collect the waste. This is called a stoma bag or an appliance. Stoma bags have adhesive on the back so they stick firmly to the skin and provide a leak-proof, odour-proof system. A filter lets out any wind (but not the odour), which should stop the wind inflating the bag. The bag usually can’t be seen under clothing.
Attaching the bag – A stomal therapy nurse will help you choose an appliance that suits your body shape and the stoma, and will explain how to attach it securely.
Emptying the bag – Stoma bags can be drainable (able to be emptied) or closed (discarded after each bowel movement). With an ileostomy, you wear a drainable bag because the waste matter tends to be watery or soft. With a colostomy, the bag may be drainable or closed, depending on the consistency of your waste matter. A drainable bag has to be emptied down the toilet when it is about one-third full. A closed bag should be put in a rubbish bin after each bowel movement (not flushed down the toilet).
|Some people don’t like to wear stoma bags. If you have a colostomy in your descending colon, you may be able to learn how to give yourself a type of enema (colostomy irrigation) to remove the waste every day or two. Talk to your doctor and stomal therapy nurse about this option.|
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.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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