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It’s common for people who are considering colorectal cancer surgery to wonder if they’ll need a colostomy bag after their operation. In many cases, people are able to use the restroom normally once they recover from surgery. However, there are some instances in which a large portion of the digestive tract must be removed or the bowel cannot be immediately reattached. In these cases, a temporary or permanent colostomy might be required.

Using the restroom after colorectal cancer surgery

After a colostomy is performed, waste will be collected in a small pouch outside of the patient’s body. This can be challenging for a patient to get used to, although specially trained nurses (ostomy nurses) can provide detailed instructions on how to care for the stoma and colostomy bag. In some instances, this procedure can be reversed if the ends of the intestines can be surgically reconnected after healing.

Most people who do not have a colostomy have a normal bowel movement within four to five days after colorectal surgery. However, some people face certain challenges, such as:

  • Urgent bowel movements
  • Increased frequency of bowel movements
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Diarrhea, constipation or fragmented stool (passing stool in small, intermittent episodes)
  • Pain in the bowels or rectum while using the restroom

Most of these side effects are temporary, lasting only a few weeks after colorectal cancer surgery. There are also a number of ways that people can cope with these symptoms while they work toward a gradual return of normal bowel function. A patient’s oncologists, nurses and supportive care providers can offer individualized strategies for regaining bowel control after colorectal surgery.

Our whole-patient approach at Moffitt Cancer Center

At Moffitt Cancer Center, we’re committed to helping our patients achieve the highest quality of life throughout colorectal cancer treatment. When surgery is part of a patient’s treatment plan, we use the most advanced techniques to minimize the recovery time and risk of complications, while also achieving the best possible outcome. To learn more, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. No referral is required.