After surgery or radiation therapy, some women notice changes in their bowel habits. You may experience constipation or diarrhoea, or feel pain in your abdomen from trapped wind.
If radiation therapy has damaged the lining of the rectum, it can cause inflammation and swelling known as radiation proctitis. This can cause a range of symptoms including blood in bowel motions; frequent passing of loose, watery stools (diarrhoea); the need to empty the bowels urgently; and loss of control over the bowels (faecal incontinence). The risk of developing radiation proctitis is low, but you may develop some of these symptoms for other reasons. Talk to your treatment team if you develop any of these symptoms. If you have ongoing bowel problems, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist.
Tips for managing bowel changes
- Drink peppermint or chamomile tea to reduce abdominal or wind pain.
- Drink plenty of liquids (except alcohol and caffeinated drinks) to replace fluids lost through diarrhoea or to help soften stools if you are constipated.
- See a women’s health physiotherapist for information about exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and anal sphincter. These exercises can help you control your bowels.
- Limit spicy and greasy foods, as these can make diarrhoea and constipation worse.
- Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about dietary changes, or to ask about suitable medicines. They may suggest you take a soluble fibre supplement to help avoid constipation, diarrhoea and loss of bowel control.
For more on this, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or see Nutrition and cancer.
|The blood vessels in the bowel and bladder can become more fragile after radiation therapy. This can cause blood to appear in urine or stools, even months or years after treatment. Let your doctor know if this occurs so you can be given the appropriate treatment.|
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Penny Blomfield, Gynaecological Oncologist, Hobart Women’s Specialists, and Chair, Australian Society of Gynaecological Oncologists, TAS; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland; Prof Martin K Oehler, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Dr Megan Smith, Program Manager – Cervix, Cancer Council NSW; Pauline Tanner, Cancer Nurse Coordinator – Gynaecology, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician, Physiotherapy Department, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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