Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home

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Stomas (or ostomies)

A stoma is a surgically created opening in the body that replaces a normal opening. It’s needed when the normal opening is blocked by a tumor or has been altered as part of cancer treatment. Stomas serve as new sites for basic body functions.

There are different types of stomas. Three are commonly seen in people with cancer:

  • Tracheostomy (pronounced tray-key-AHS-tuh-me, or trake for short) in the trachea, or windpipe
  • Urostomy (yur-ahs-tuh-me) in the bladder or urinary system
  • Colostomy (kuh-lahs-tuh-me) in the colon

What the patient can do


  • Use pen and paper to “speak” or communicate with others.
  • Leave the outer tube of the tracheostomy in place unless your doctor or nurse tells you otherwise.
  • Clean your tracheostomy tube at least once a day as instructed by your nurse or doctor.
  • Suction the tube as needed or as directed by your nurse or doctor.
  • Wash your hands carefully before and after handling your tracheostomy to help prevent infections.
  • Be careful to keep water out of the tracheostomy while bathing. A child’s bib with the plastic side facing outward can be used to keep water out and let you breathe while you shower, or you can buy special protective covers.
  • Do not swim, and be very cautious around bodies of water. Being near water that may get close to your neck will be risky for you because water can get into your lungs.
  • Wear a scarf or shirt made of thin fabric (such as cotton) that covers the opening but allows air to get through. This helps protect the stoma from dust and loose fibers.
  • Ask to meet with a respiratory therapist, ostomy nurse, or speech-language pathologist if you need more information.
  • You may want to visit or call 1-866-425-3678 to learn about the International Association of Laryngectomees.

Urostomy and colostomy

  • Every day, gently clean the skin around your stoma with warm water only. (You might see a small amount of blood while cleaning. This is OK.)
  • Gently pat dry or allow to air dry.
  • Showers or baths can be taken with the pouch on or off.
  • Apply barriers, borders, or pastes to the skin around the stoma before putting on the pouch.
  • Empty the pouch when it’s one-third full.
  • Change the colostomy pouch before there’s a leak, if possible – not more than once a day and not less than once every 3 or 4 days.
  • Change the urostomy pouch every 3 to 7 days.
  • Irrigate the colostomy as instructed by a nurse or doctor.
  • Ask your enterostomal therapy nurse any questions you may have.
  • If you live in a large community, consider joining a support group. Visit or call 1-800-826-0826 for information from United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.

What caregivers can do


  • Learn how to care for the tracheostomy.
  • Learn to suction out mucus from the upper airway.
  • Moist air helps keep mucus from being too thick and sticky. A humidifier, especially in the bedroom, may be helpful. Check with the doctor or nurse on how to clean the humidifier.

Urostomy and colostomy

  • Learn how to care for the stoma, including the skin around it.
  • Offer help if the patient is having trouble. Often, the patient feels embarrassed and will not ask for help.
  • Encourage the patient to join an ostomy club for support and practical tips.

For more detailed information on colostomy, ileostomy, urostomy, or related topics, contact your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345, or visit our website,

Last Medical Review: 11/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2013