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- Other types of bowel irritation
Other types of bowel irritation
Some chemotherapy drugs, stem cell transplants and radiation therapy to the pelvic area can make the bowel swollen and sore. This is called colitis when it affects the colon (the large bowel), and proctitis when it affects only the rectum (the last part of the bowel before the anus). You may feel the need to empty your bowels often, perhaps without much result. Straining can cause discomfort, and there may be blood or mucus in your bowel movements. Diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting are also common, but can be managed with medicines.
The small bowel may become irritated after chemotherapy or radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvic area. This is known as enteritis and it can cause discomfort in the abdomen (like cramps or wind pain), pale and runny bowel movements, and more wind than usual.
How to manage bowel irritation
- Eat and drink slowly, take small mouthfuls and chew your food well to avoid swallowing air.
- Have foods low in insoluble fibre to reduce bowel irritation in the short term. Include foods high in soluble fibre to “soak up” additional liquid in your bowel.
- Avoid fatty, spicy or fried foods, and rich gravies and sauces.
- Reduce foods such as corn, beans, cabbage, onions, pickles and fizzy drinks, which can produce wind.
- Drink plenty of water, and eat soft or cooked peeled fruit, fine wholemeal bread and bran to provide soft bulk. You may be encouraged to take an oral rehydration solution, such as Hydralyte or Gastrolyte, to keep hydrated.
- Do some gentle exercise, such as walking, to encourage more regular bowel movements.
- Tell your doctor if symptoms don’t improve. Bowel irritation is usually temporary, with colitis and proctitis lasting up to 8 weeks and enteritis lasting 1–2 weeks after treatment ends.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Jacqueline Baker, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Lauren Atkins, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, OnCore Nutrition, VIC; Dr Tsien Fua, Head and Neck Radiation Oncology Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Clare Hughes, Manager, Nutrition Unit, Cancer Council NSW; John Spurr, Consumer; Emma Vale, Senior Dietitian, GenesisCare, SA; David Wood, Consumer.
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