Learning About Bowel Cancer & Living With a Stoma Bag
- Reality TV star Adele Roberts, 43, recently shared that her stoma bag will need to stay in place for now. But the bowel cancer survivor wants to share the details of her stoma bag journey to help others going through a similar experience.
- A colostomy or ileostomy is a procedure where part of your intestines are hooked up through the front of your belly, and you go to the bathroom through a bag that attaches to your skin. This bag is called a stoma bag or an ostomy bag.
- Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, but generally we use the term colorectal cancer in the United States.
- One of our experts emphasizes the importance of colorectal cancer screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
- Possible symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for include a change in bowel habits, a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, cramping or belly pain, weakness and fatigue and unintended weight loss.
Roberts, who grew to fame after her appearance on the UK’s “Big Brother,” was diagnosed with stage two bowel cancer in early October of last year. She only discovered her disease after seeing her doctor for persistent digestive issues. She also noticed mucus and blood in the toilet after going to the bathroom.Read More
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“Just a quick update – I had a meeting with my consultant and it looks like Audrey the #stoma is staying 😄 She rides again! Well… she’s staying for the time being,” she wrote under a series of pictures of her posing with her stoma bag. It’s a long story but essentially it’s not possible to give me a reversal of my stoma anytime soon. He also casually mentioned that I’ve had my rectum removed 😶 I might not be able to go to the toilet normally again ever… 🤯 WTAF?!
“Anyway… for now – while I do have the honour of having a stoma I thought I could try & do some good. Share what life is like day to day & maybe things I find helpful?”
Roberts then went on to explain that living with a stoma means she’s always mindful of how accessible a place or event is when she leaves the house.
“I’m still not confident eating and drinking away from home,” she wrote. “So even if I’m lucky enough to be out at night, DJing or at an event I don’t stay long, I don’t eat or drink much and I’ve got a military knowledge of where every toilet is – especially the accessible ones.
“I want to emphasise that’s my experience and how I’m learning to get better looking after Audrey. Everyone is different but I know from experience that if I get too excited or nervous it’s game over! 😅”
In sharing more details about her stoma bag experience, Roberts hopes to “help the wonderful #ostomate community.”
“There are around 200,000 people in the UK with a stoma,” she wrote. “From little babies right up to the more distinguished and senior members – so many more people than we all realise – and together I feel like we could do a lot of good .”
What Is A Stoma Bag?
A stoma bag is used after someone undergoes a colostomy or ileostomy – a procedure where part of your intestines are hooked up through the front of your belly.
A colostomy is when the large intestine (colon) is brought through this opening in the skin. An ileostomy, on the other hand, is when a part of the small intestine (ileum) is attached to the skin. These procedures can both be performed as a part of bowel cancer treatment, though they definitely aren’t always necessary.
The stoma bag, also called an ostomy bag, is then attached to your skin to allow you to go to the bathroom.
“Any time you have surgery on the intestine you can’t predict how well it’s going to heal,” explained SurvivorNet advisor Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. “The majority of the time we can put patients back together, we connect one piece of the intestine back to the other. If we are able to do that successfully, they don’t need to have a colostomy bag.
“That being said, sometimes people get blockages and need emergency surgery and those patients are more likely to need a temporary colostomy bag. Sometimes people have cancers that are too big to take out, and those people may also need a colostomy bag.”
A stoma bag might seem like it’d be a nuisance, but many people lead an active and normal life with their bags. A plastic bag acts as a cover so it doesn’t smell, and once it’s full you can simply empty it in the bathroom.
“Once you get over sort of the psychosocial effects, you can lead a totally normal life,” Dr. Daniel Labow, the chief of the Surgical Oncology Division at Mount Sinai, previously told SurvivorNet. “It’s not painful. It’s just getting used to a different way.”
And most patients will have their ostomy reversed two or three months after their cancer operation.
“If we do [an ostomy] for colon cancer, 99 percent of the time almost it’s temporary, could be as short as six to eight weeks, let everything heal, and then reconnect them down below,” Dr. Labow said.
Understanding Bowel Cancer
Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, but generally we use the term colorectal cancer – or colon cancer or rectal cancer depending on the location of the cancer – in the United States.
Bowel cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Symptoms of Bowel Cancer
Colorectal (bowel) cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but these are possible symptoms to look out for:
- A change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
It is important to note, however, that displaying some of these symptoms does not mean you have colorectal cancer. You could also have colorectal cancer and not display any of these symptoms. Regardless, it is important to bring up any symptoms to your doctor should they arise.
Screening for Bowel Cancer
Dr. Yeo also emphasizes the importance of colorectal cancer screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo says. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Even still, colorectal cancer cases are rising among younger people. And in the United States alone, rates have increased every year from 2011 to 2016 by 2 percent among people younger than 50. Because of this increase, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated its colorectal cancer screening recommendations to begin at age 45 instead of 50.
“We know that colon cancers can be prevented when polyps are found early,” Dr. Yeo said. “Lowering the screening age helps somewhat with this. But access to care is a real problem.”
And increasing access is crucial to making sure that we don’t see racial disparities within the world of colorectal cancer. Whites and Asians are significantly more likely to be up to date with their colonoscopies than African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
Research suggests that tailoring colorectal cancer screenings to each person’s individual risk may be beneficial. If you are not yet 45 but have concerns about your risk, talk to your doctor. Ask about your individual risk based on your lifestyle and family history and find out when screenings would be right for you.