Cancer and its treatment may cause changes in the usual patterns of elimination. Some treatments cause constipation or loose stool. Urinary tract infections may result from immune system suppression. In some cases, cancer-related surgery creates new outlets for stool and urine in the form of colostomies, ileostomies, ileal conduits or other urinary diversions. All of these cancer treatments can cause physical and psychological distress and may impose restrictions or challenges at work.
Changes in bowel and bladder function may provoke concerns about elimination. A work environment that provides easy and regular access to a private bathroom is desirable. The care of ostomies requires some education and practice so that the patient feels comfortable in preventing and troubleshooting any problems that might occur.
What patients can do
Speak to your patient about the factors that contribute to irregularities in bowel and bladder function so that these can be prevented or managed quickly. Encourage the patient to monitor signs of problems such as infections and ask their healthcare team for advice.
- Aim for regular elimination habits, especially if the patient is on medications that may cause constipation or diarrhea. Diet and fluid intake may help this.
- Know the warning signs that indicate an urgent need for medical attention.
- If the patient has a surgical opening for the passage of urine or stool, advise them on managing the ostomy and preventing problems or refer them to an ostomy care specialist.
- For more information, see the Ostomy Canada Society website.
There are several ways that jobs can be modified to accommodate bowel and bladder function problems.
Modify work tasks:
- Relocate the workstation closer to the washroom.
- Ask for access to a private washroom that has a sink and toilet together.
- Request a private place to store wet wipes, extra ostomy supplies and a change of clothing.
- Identify tasks that would be problematic to interrupt with an emergency bathroom visit.
- Explore if there is a way to modify these tasks to allow for unforeseen interruptions.