Diarrhoea in Cancer Patients

Updated at: Jan 13, 2013
Diarrhoea in Cancer Patients
Editorial Team
CancerWritten by: Editorial TeamPublished at: Jan 13, 2013

What it is ?

Diarrhea occurs when you have frequent bowel movements that may be soft, loose, or watery. Foods and liquids pass through the bowel so quickly that your body cannot absorb enough nutrition, vitamins, minerals, and water from them. This can cause dehydration (which occurs when your body has too little water). Diarrhea can be mild or severe and last a short or long time.

Why it happens ?

Diarrhea can be caused by cancer treatments such as radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis, chemotherapy, or biological therapy. These treatments cause diarrhea because they can harm healthy cells in the lining of your large and small bowel. Diarrhea can also be caused by infections, medicine used to treat constipation, or antibiotics.

Ways to manage with food

    * Drink plenty of fluids to replace those you lose from diarrhea. These include water, ginger ale, and sports drinks such as Gatorade® and Propel®. See the list of clear liquids for other ideas.
    * Let carbonated drinks lose their fizz before you drink them. Add extra water if drinks make you thirsty or they cause nausea.
    * Eat 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals.
    * Eat foods and liquids that are high in sodium and potassium. When you have diarrhea, your body loses these substances, and it is important to replace them. Liquids with sodium include bouillon or fat-free broth. Foods high in potassium include bananas, canned apricots, and baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes.
    * Eat low-fiber foods. Foods high in fiber can make diarrhea worse. Low-fiber foods include plain or vanilla yogurt, white toast, and white rice. See the list of more low-fiber foods.
    * Have foods and drinks at room temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.
    * Avoid foods or drinks that can make diarrhea worse. These include:
          o Foods high in fiber, such as whole wheat breads and pasta
          o Drinks that have a lot of sugar, such as regular soda and fruit punch
          o Very hot or very cold drinks
          o Greasy, fatty, or fried foods, such as French fries and hamburgers
          o Foods and drinks that can cause gas. These include cooked dried beans and raw fruits and vegetables.
          o Milk products, unless they are low-lactose or lactose-free
          o Beer, wine, and other types of alcohol
          o Spicy foods, such as pepper, hot sauce, salsa, and chili
          o Foods or drinks with caffeine. These include regular coffee, tea, some sodas, and chocolate.
          o Sugar-free products that are sweetened with xylitol or sorbitol. These are found mostly in sugar-free gums and candy. Read product labels to find out if they have these sweeteners in them.
          o Apple juice, since it is high in sorbitol
    * Drink only clear liquids for 12 to 14 hours after a sudden attack of diarrhea. This lets your bowels rest and helps replace lost fluids. Let your doctor know if you have sudden diarrhea.


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