- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Constipation or diarrhoea
Some chemotherapy drugs, pain medicines and anti-nausea drugs can cause constipation or diarrhoea. Tell your doctor or nurse if your bowel habits have changed.
Some people experience ongoing bowel problems after cancer treatment. If you find that dietary fibre makes any bowel problems worse, you may need to eat low-fibre foods.
Learn more about managing:
How to manage constipation
- Eat more high-fibre foods, such as wholegrain bread and pasta, bran, fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes (e.g. baked beans or lentils).
- If you are having treatment for bowel cancer, ask your treatment team if there is any specific dietary advice about fibre you can follow to avoid constipation.
- Drink plenty of fluids, both warm and cold. Prune, apple or pear juice can work well.
- Do some light exercise, such as walking.
- Ask your doctor about using a laxative, stool softener or fibre supplement.
- Avoid enemas or suppositories as they may cause infection.
- Let your treatment team know if you have constipation for more than a couple of days. They will be able to help.
How to manage diarrhoea
- Choose bland foods such as clear broth, boiled rice or dry toast.
- Avoid spicy foods, wholegrain products, fatty or fried foods, rich sauces, and raw fruits or vegetables with skins or seeds.
- It may help to eat foods that are high in soluble fibre such as oats, white bread, white rice, pasta and bananas.
- Limit alcohol, fruit juice, soft drinks, strong tea or coffee, and foods containing artificial sweeteners as these stimulate the bowel.
- Drink water to help replace fluids lost through diarrhoea.
- Talk to your treatment team – they may change the drugs or doses or suggest other solutions, such as using over-the-counter medicines.
- If diarrhoea is severe or ongoing, let your treatment team know. It can cause dehydration and you may need to go to hospital.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Clinical A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Stacey Burton, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Andrew Greig, Consumer; Steve Higgs, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.
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