Surgery Overview

A colostomy is surgery that makes an opening in the skin on the belly and connects the bowel (colon) to that opening. The opening is called a stoma. A colostomy may be temporary or permanent.

A colostomy may be done either as an open surgery or as a laparoscopic surgery. Open surgery is done through a large cut (incision) in the belly. Laparoscopic surgery is done through several small incisions in the belly. The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube (laparoscope, or scope) and special surgical tools through the incisions. The doctor is able to use the scope to see your organs and do the surgery. The type of surgery you have depends on your health needs. With either type of surgery, the incisions will leave scars on your belly that will fade with time.

The surgery can be done in two ways. In open surgery, the doctor makes one large cut (incision) in the belly. In laparoscopic surgery, the doctor makes several small incisions in the belly. Then the doctor puts a thin, lighted tube and special surgical tools through the incisions. The tube is called a scope. It lets the doctor see your organs and do the surgery. In either surgery, the incisions leave scars. These will fade with time.

You may worry about what your life will be like after a colostomy. Many people who have colostomies lead active, normal lives. Colostomy bags are odour-proof. They don't show under clothes. Other people won't know that you have a colostomy unless you choose to tell them. An ostomy nurse can help you learn to care for your colostomy.

Most people go home 4 to 7 days after the surgery. You will probably need about 6 weeks to fully recover.

How It Is Done

Anatomy of the colon and rectum

The colon and rectum and where they are in the body
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slide 1 of 5, Anatomy of the colon and rectum,

The large intestine (colon) extends from the cecum to the anus and includes the ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon, the sigmoid colon, and the rectum.

Colon cancer site

Cancer in the wall of the descending colon
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slide 2 of 5, Colon cancer site,

Cancer is shown in a section of the descending colon.

Colon section removed

Possible stoma sites
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slide 3 of 5, Colon section removed,

Surgery removes the section of colon that contains cancer.

Remaining colon attached to create a stoma

A stoma for a colostomy
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slide 4 of 5, Remaining colon attached to create a stoma,

The surgeon connects the end of the remaining section of the colon to an opening made in the skin. This creates a stoma.

Colostomy pouch in place

A colostomy bag positioned on the stoma
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slide 5 of 5, Colostomy pouch in place,

Body waste passes from the colon through the stoma into a colostomy pouch (or bag), which is taped to your body.

What To Expect

A colostomy usually requires general anesthesia and a hospital stay of 3 days to 2 weeks. You may have a colostomy right after other surgery. You can expect some discomfort during the first few days after surgery. This can often be controlled with home treatment and drugs.

After the colostomy, a plastic bag called a colostomy pouch is taped over the opening on the outside of your body. You will be taught how to take care of your pouch and how to watch for infection. With proper care, you should be able to return to normal but non-strenuous activities within a few months.

Learn more

Why It Is Done

A colostomy is done when part of your colon or rectum has been removed and the part that remains cannot function normally. A colostomy may be done as part of treatment for colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, or other colon problems.


The colostomy opening can become infected. To prevent this, keep your skin under the pouch clean and dry.


Current as of: November 30, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kenneth Bark MD - General Surgery, Colon and Rectal Surgery
JoLynn Montgomery PA - Family Medicine