Surgery, radiation therapy and medicines can cause changes to the way the bowels work. These changes are usually temporary, but for some women, 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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Constipation is when you have difficulty passing a bowel motion regularly or often. It is important to avoid constipation, especially in the days after surgery, because it may lead to more discomfort or cause you to strain when you’re sitting on the toilet.
Talk to your dietitian or doctor about making changes to your diet or taking medicines if you are experiencing constipation.
Diarrhoea is the frequent passing of loose, watery stools (faeces) from the bowels. A dietitian can suggest changes to your diet to reduce the number of bowel motions.
Radiation therapy can damage the lining of the rectum, causing 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
- loss of control over the bowels (faecal incontinence).
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.
A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Jonathan Carter, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jennifer Loveridge, Consumer; Pauline Tanner, Gynaecology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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