- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Nutrition and cancer
- Treatment side effects and nutrition
Constipation is when your bowel motions (stools) are infrequent and difficult to pass. It can be caused by different factors including: some chemotherapy and anti-nausea drugs; strong pain medicines (opioids); eating less fibre; not moving around as much; not drinking enough (dehydration); or not eating enough.
Severe constipation accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain and swelling, nausea and vomiting can indicate a blockage in the bowel (bowel obstruction). This needs urgent medical attention.
How to manage constipation
- Soften stools by drinking 8–10 glasses of fluid a day (e.g. water, herbal tea, milk-based drinks, soup, prune juice).
- Eat foods that are high in insoluble fibre (e.g. wholegrain breads, cereals or pasta; raw and unpeeled fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds; legumes and pulses).
- If you are increasing the amount of fibre in your diet, be sure to increase the amount of fluids to avoid the extra fibre making constipation worse.
- Ask your doctor about using a laxative, stool softener and/or fibre supplement.
- Aim to do some physical activity every day. Check with your doctor, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist about the amount and type of exercise that is right for you.
- If you have had surgery for bowel cancer, see Eating after surgery, and ask your health care team for specific dietary advice. They may advise a low-fibre diet to avoid constipation in your situation.
Jenelle Loeliger, Head of Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rebecca Blower, Public Health Advisor, Cancer Prevention, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Julia Davenport, Consumer; Irene Deftereos, Senior Dietitian, Western Health, VIC; Lynda Menzies, A/Senior Dietitian – Cancer Care (APD), Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Janice Savage, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Exercise and cancer
Exercise has many benefits both during and after cancer treatment, helping with side effects, speeding up recovery, and improving quality of life
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Learn about the different treatments that are used to treat cancer, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy