Most Colorectal Cancer Patients Won’t Need a Colostomy After Surgery

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March 18, 2022
Colorectal Cancer Patient

March is colorectal cancer awareness month, so let’s talk about some things you might not know about this type of cancer.

According to

  • Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S.
  • Over 75% of colon and rectal cancers happen to people with no known risk factors. 
  • Younger and younger people are being diagnosed.

The first line of treatment for early stage colon cancer is surgically removing the cancer. This will often be enough to cure it. But one of the biggest fears people have surrounding colorectal cancer surgery is having to live with a colostomy— a bag on the outside of their body to catch waste. That was true 20 years ago, when about half of patients with colon cancer had to live with permanent colostomies. But today, due to advancements in surgical techniques, 80% to 90% of colon cancer patients won’t need one.

Colorectal Cancer and Colostomy

Advancements in imaging and surgical techniques now allow doctors to repair the intestine so that you can use the restroom normally after surgery. The Colorectal Surgical Specialists at Arizona Oncology have expertise in these treatments that offer better outcomes and low complication rates.

“Patients tend to be very happy when they learn this,” said Jennifer Ford, FNP-BC, RNFA, of the Colorectal Surgical Specialists at Arizona Oncology. It is a common fear and they are delighted to know that a colostomy is something that they will not need for their future.”

Some patients will need a temporary colostomy until their intestine heals enough for the surgeon to reattach it. The colostomy consists of a hole in the abdominal wall (called a stoma) attached to a bag outside of your body. Solid waste moves from your body into the bag. You are taught how to empty the bag and care for your stoma. Many patients find that living with a temporary or even a permanent colostomy isn’t as hard as they expected.

“Some patients accept the colostomy and do very well with them. Some of them struggle emotionally, and we work hard to help them through that process. There are also a lot of support systems out there in the community including an ostomy support group and stoma nurses at the hospital to help them through this process,” Ford said.

What to expect after colon cancer surgery without a colostomy

If you do not have a colostomy after colon cancer surgery, you will probably be back to having normal bowel movements within four to five days. After surgery, some people experience issues such as urgent bowel movements, bowel incontinence, diarrhea, constipation or pain during bowel movements. These side effects usually go away on their own within a few weeks.

Catching colon cancer early is the best option

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from colon cancer is to get screened. Screening can catch colon cancer early or in precancerous stages. Precancerous polyps, Stage 0 colon cancer (tumors that have not grown beyond the inner lining of the colon), and some Stage 1 tumors can be removed during a colonoscopy. In these cases, there is no concern about a colostomy because no portion of the colon is removed.

“The earlier the cancer is found the better it is for the long-term prognosis,” Ford said.

Depending on your age, risk factors, and medical history, your doctor may recommend one of the following colon cancer screening tests.

Stool Tests. You collect and send samples of your stool to a lab. Because colorectal cancers can bleed, the tests check for tiny amounts of blood in the feces. Blood in your feces does not necessarily indicate cancer.

Colonoscopy. A flexible lighted tube is inserted through the rectum to check for abnormal growths. Growths can be removed at the same time. Most patients are sedated for the procedure.

Sigmoidoscopy. This test uses a shorter scope than the colonoscope. Preparation for the test isn’t as extensive as it is for a colonoscopy, and patients don’t typically require sedation. Growths can be removed at the same time.

Virtual colonoscopy. Officially named Computed tomographic (CT) colonography, this test uses X-rays to produce a series of pictures of the colon and the rectum from outside the body.

Not all of these options are equal, however. “Colonoscopy is the only recommended screening for colon cancer that can determine if you have precancerous growths and treat them,” Ford said.

“Colonoscopies are a lot easier to go through than to go through colon surgery or chemotherapy or end up with an ostomy,” she added.

If you are diagnosed with colon cancer…

We take a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care. Regardless of your stage of colorectal cancer, the Colorectal Surgical Team at Arizona Oncology is here to provide expert surgical care that is both comprehensive and compassionate. If you require chemotherapy or additional treatments for colorectal cancer, our oncologists will work with you and your family to determine the best course of action, including access to clinical trials.

Learn more about our doctors at and learn more about colon cancer and rectal cancer at

View Arizona Oncology patient Jim’s colorectal cancer story here.