- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Radiation therapy
- Managing radiation therapy side effects
- Bowel problems
To reduce the effects of radiation on the bowel, the radiation therapists may advise you to drink fluids before each session so you have a full bladder. This will expand your bladder and push the bowel higher up into the abdomen, away from the radiation.
Even with precautions, radiation therapy can irritate the lining of the bowel or stomach. These changes are usually temporary, but for some people they are permanent and can have a significant impact on quality of life. It is important to talk to your treatment team if you are finding bowel issues difficult to manage.
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This is when you have frequent loose, watery bowel motions. You will need to go to the toilet more urgently and more often. You may also get abdominal cramping, excess wind and pain. Having diarrhoea can be tiring, so rest as much as possible. Diarrhoea can take some weeks to settle down after treatment has finished.
Radiation therapy to the pelvic area can damage the lining of the rectum, causing inflammation and swelling known as radiation proctitis. This can cause a range of symptoms including blood and mucus in bowel motions; discomfort opening the bowels; or the need to empty the bowels often, perhaps with little result. Talk to your treatment team about your risk of developing radiation proctitis. If you have any ongoing bowel problems, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist.
Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, and Dean, RANZCR Faculty of Radiation Oncology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Patricia Hanley, Consumer; Prof Michael Hofman, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Physician, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Leanne Hoy, Cancer Nurse Consultant, GenesisCare, VIC; Sharon King, Accredited Practising Dietitian, TAS; Dr Yoo Young (Dominique) Lee, Radiation Oncology Consultant, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Wendy Phillips, Senior Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Katrina Rech, Radiation Therapist and Quality Systems Manager, GenesisCare, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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Nutrition and cancer
Many people have problems eating well during and after cancer treatment. This may be caused by the cancer or caused by the cancer treatments.