Returning to Work After Getting an Ostomy

As your strength returns, you can go back to your regular activities. If you go back to work, you might want to tell your employer or a good friend about your ostomy. Being open about it will help educate others. Keeping it a complete secret could cause practical problems.

People with ostomies can do most jobs. But heavy lifting could cause a stoma to herniate (the whole thing bulges outward) or prolapse (the inside falls outward). A sudden blow to the pouch area could cause the face plate to shift and cut the stoma.

Still, there are people with ostomies who do heavy lifting, such as fire fighters, mechanics, and truck drivers. There are athletes who have stomas, too. Discuss your type of work with your doctor. As with all major surgery, it will take time for you to regain strength after your operation. A letter from your doctor to your employer might be helpful should your employer have doubts about what you’ll be able to do.

Sometimes people find that their employer thinks their ostomy will keep them from doing their job. This can also happen when applying for a new job. You should know that your right to work may be protected by parts of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities, and sometimes by sections of your state and local laws. If you feel you are being treated unfairly because of your ostomy, check with the United Ostomy Associations of America or with a local legal resource about protecting your rights. You may also want to read Americans With Disabilities Act: Information for People Facing Cancer.

In its original form this document was written by the United Ostomy Association, Inc. (1962-2005) and reviewed by Jan Clark, RNET, CWOCN and Peg Grover, RNET. It has since been modified and updated by:

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: June 2, 2017 Last Revised: June 12, 2017

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