Managing Stomas (or Ostomies) at Home

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 trach (trake) for short. These go into the trachea, or windpipe through the front of the neck
  • Urostomy (yur-AHS-tuh-me) in the bladder or urinary system, through the belly
  • Colostomy (kuh-LAHS-tuh-me) in the colon, through the belly

What the patient can do

Tracheostomy

  • Use pen and paper to “speak” or communicate with others.
  • Leave the outer tube of the trach in place unless you’ve been told otherwise.
  • Clean your trach tube at least once a day as instructed.
  • Suction the tube as needed or as directed.
  • Wash your hands carefully before and after handling your trach to help prevent infections.
  • Be careful to keep water out of the trach 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 in water that may get close to your neck is risky for you because water can get right into your lungs through the trach.
  • Wear a scarf or shirt made of thin fabric (such as cotton) that covers the opening but lets air get through. This helps protect the trach 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 www.theial.com/ial/ or call 1-866-425-3678 to learn about the International Association of Laryngectomees.

Urostomy and colostomy

  • Gently clean the skin around your ostomy 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 ostomy before putting on the pouch.
  • Empty the pouch when it’s about a third full.
  • Change the pouch before there’s a leak, if possible.
  • Ask your enterostomal therapy (ET) nurse any questions you may have.
  • If you live in a large community, consider joining a support group. Visit www.ostomy.org or call 1-800-826-0826 for information from United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.

What caregivers can do

Tracheostomy

  • Learn how to care for the tracheostomy.
  • Learn to suction 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. Be sure you know how to clean the humidifier.

Urostomy and colostomy

  • Learn how to care for the ostomy, 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, visit www.cancer.org or call us at 1-800-227-2345.

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.

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Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: June 8, 2015

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