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How Effective is a Colostomy for Cancer?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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The overall effectiveness of colostomy for cancer will depend heavily on what stage the disease is in when treatment begins. Most commonly, colostomy will be used when the lower half of the colon and rectum need to be removed or when they need time to heal after a tumor has been removed. During early stages of colorectal cancer, most patients have a five year survival rate or better. In the later stages a colostomy is not an effective treatment method because the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Use of colostomy for cancer treatment is usually most effective when the disease is in the first or second stage. This means that the cancer has been contained in the colon or rectum and sometimes in the surrounding muscle tissue, but has not moved farther through the body. Survival rates for these earlier stages are very good, up to 93%, and treatment usually involves either removing a tumor or the diseased area of the colon. This is where a colostomy is useful.

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A colostomy is a surgical procedure in which the lower and top halves of the colon are cut in half. The top half, or the end connected with the small intestine, is then sewn onto a hole that is cut into the abdomen. Waste materials are diverted through this hole and caught by a bag or container. The lower end of the colon is either sutured shut or removed, depending on the stage of disease. When the lower end is not removed, the colostomy is generally used to allow it time to heal after a tumor has been taken out, and the two ends are later rejoined for normal colorectal function.

Performing a colostomy for cancer in its later stages is not generally an effective treatment method when used alone. Five year survival rates for end stage colon cancer are only about 5%. A colostomy may still be performed if the entire lower colon needs to be removed. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, may also be used to prolong the life of the patient.

When a permanent colostomy for cancer treatment is performed, patients must learn to use the tubes and containers required to eliminate waste from the body. This must be performed several times per day in the beginning. If cancer is widespread and the patient is hospital bound, nurses and other medical staff often do the procedure for the patient.

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