What is an Ostomy?

During surgery for ovarian cancer (usually known as debulking surgery), the goal is to remove as much tumor as possible. This might mean removing part of the colon or small intestine if there is cancer present. Your doctor may then have to perform ostomy surgery. This is a procedure that creates an opening that allows waste to empty into a pouch outside your body.1

Ostomies are usually temporary and can be resolved later with another surgery.1

Knowing more about ostomies can help you feel more informed and comfortable, should you need one with your surgery. Your doctor can also answer questions about the kind of ostomy you may need and whether it will be temporary or permanent.

What is an ostomy?

An ostomy is a surgical procedure that changes the way urine or stool leaves the body. Bodily waste is diverted from its usual path out of the body because of a malfunction or surgical change. It can be temporary or permanent.1

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A stoma is the opening created by ostomy surgery. This opening is on the abdomen. In most cases, a pouch is worn over the stoma so it can collect stool or urine.1

There are different kinds of ostomies, depending on your needs and what type of surgery you have to treat your ovarian cancer.

A colostomy is when part of the colon (large intestine) or the rectum is removed, and the remaining colon is brought to the abdominal wall. It is then attached to the stoma so bodily waste can come out. You may need a colostomy if part of your colon is removed because it contained ovarian cancer cells.1,2

If there is cancer on the small intestine, an ileostomy may be necessary. An ileostomy is when part of the ileum, or the lowest part of the small intestine, is brought to the abdominal wall and attached to a stoma.1

If part of the bladder needs to be removed during ovarian cancer surgery, a catheter is usually placed.2

The emotional impact of an ostomy

Even if the ostomy is temporary, you may have a lot of different feelings about it. It is something new and unfamiliar, but you do not have to deal with this alone. Talk with your doctor about your feelings and ask questions about ostomy care. Your trusted family, friends, and caregivers can also offer their support.

Some things you might be facing include:3

  • Changes to your self-image, including the appearance of a bag and its care, and feelings about your body’s appearance and function
  • Concerns about how to clean it or manage the ostomy care
  • Worries about returning to work with an ostomy
  • Concerns about sexuality with an ostomy

All of these feelings are normal. An ostomy nurse and support group can help you, even if your ostomy is only temporary. Ask your doctor or nurse about local resources for ostomies. You can also find ostomy support groups online.

Tips for managing an ostomy

You might have questions about how an ostomy will impact travel, your clothing choices, and your intimate relationships. There are many resources available to you.

Traveling with an ostomy

You do not have to let an ostomy control what you do and where you go. You can still go wherever you want, even with an ostomy. It may take some planning, but you can bring extra ostomy supplies and travel. If you are unsure about how to prepare for travel, talk to your doctor, ostomy nurse, or support group members.4

Dressing with an ostomy

You might worry about choosing the right clothes to wear with an ostomy. In most cases, you can wear whatever makes you feel comfortable. Tight waistbands or tight clothing might feel constricting on the stoma, but work with your nurse to find what works best for you.4

If you are looking for a bathing suit, there are ostomy swimsuits at specialty stores. Once you get more used to the ostomy pouch, you can find ways to help hide the bag or minimize any noise from the bag. If you are self-conscious about appearance or odors, ask a trusted friend or loved one if they can see or hear the bag, or whether they can smell anything.4

Intimate relationships with an ostomy

If you are nervous about sexual activity with an ostomy, that is okay. It can take time for some people to adjust. Once you are healed from surgery, listen to your body and take your time, following what feels most comfortable. Talk with your partner about how you are feeling and any concerns you might have.

Before intimacy, empty and clean your ostomy pouch. Think about changing your positions during intimacy to make it more comfortable with your ostomy. There are even lingerie and cummerbunds that can help hold the ostomy pouch in place for you. Talk with your doctor or ostomy nurse about where to find these.4

It can be helpful to find support, even if your ostomy is temporary. Support groups can help you navigate decision-making, work, relationships, and events with your ostomy. You can join an ostomy group or an ovarian cancer support group where others have also had ostomies as part of their cancer surgery. There are people who understand what you are going through, and you do not have to do this alone.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: May 2021