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Managing Constipation During Cancer Treatment

Nutrition and treatment side effects

There is more to nutrition during cancer and cancer therapy than getting enough calories and protein. The foods you choose also help you cope with side effects. These include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chewing and swallowing problems, and taste changes.

Each person is different, so is their reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe or mild. Or you may not have any. Talk with your cancer care team about possible side effects before treatment begins.

Managing constipation

Some anticancer medicines, pain medicines, and other medicines cause constipation. This condition occurs when bowel movements do not happen as often as usual and stool becomes hard and dry, making it difficult to pass. When waste matter remains too long in the bowels, water is absorbed. This leads to hard stools and constipation. These suggestions may help prevent or ease constipation:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water—at least 8 cups every day, unless advised otherwise by your healthcare provider.

  • Drink a hot liquid, such as hot tea, about one-half hour before your usual time for a bowel movement.

  • Check with your healthcare provider to see if you can increase the fiber in your diet. If you can, try foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals, dried fruits, wheat bran, prune juice, fresh fruits and vegetables with the skins, legumes, such as dried beans and peas, and brown rice. Eat the skin on potatoes.

  • Try to get some exercise every day to help prevent constipation.

  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to have a bowel movement.

Keep a record of your bowel movements. Call your healthcare provider if you have not had a bowel movement for 3 days, or as directed. They may suggest taking a laxative or stool softener. Don't use enemas or suppositories unless your provider tells you to. High-fiber foods will help constipation, but check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian before you eat these foods. There are certain types of cancer for which a high-fiber diet is not advised.

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