Living with cancer and its treatments can result in changes to your bowel habits. This could be differences in the appearance, consistency, and/or the smell of your stools.
This is when your bowel motions are infrequent and difficult to pass. It can be caused by different factors including regularly taking opioid medicines; having a diet low in fibre; not getting enough exercise; not having enough fluids to drink (dehydration); or having a low overall food intake.
Tips on 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 high in 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, increase fluids to prevent the extra fibre making constipation worse
Ask your doctor about using a laxative, stool softener and/or fibre supplement
Exercise – check with your doctor, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist about the amount and type of exercise that is right for you.
This means your bowel motions are watery, urgent, and frequent. You may also get abdominal cramping, wind, and pain. Frequent loose stools can occur because you are not digesting food or absorbing nutrients properly. Cancer treatment, medicines, infections, reactions to certain foods and anxiety can all cause diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea can result in dehydration, so it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking extra fluids. Every time you have a loose bowel movement you should drink an extra cup of non-caffeinated fluid. If you have diarrhoea for several days, see your doctor so he/she can determine the cause and help to manage your diarrhoea. Your doctor may decide to prescribe you anti-diarrhoea or over-the-counter medication.
Tips on how to manage diarrhoea:
Drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Water and diluted cordials are better than high-sugar drinks, alcohol, or caffeinated fluids – remember signs of dehydration are smaller amounts of dark urine
Choose low-fibre foods, e.g., bananas, mashed potato, rice, pasta, white bread, oats, steamed chicken without the skin, white fish
Avoid foods that increase bowel activity, e.g., spicy, fatty, or oily foods, caffeine, alcohol, or artificial sweeteners
Try soy milk or lactose-free milk if you develop a temporary intolerance to milk (lactose)
Don’t eat too many raw fruit and vegetable skins and wholegrain cereals as they may make diarrhoea worse
Avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugar, such as cordial, soft drinks and lollies
Avoid foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. These are often marketed as ‘sugar-free’
It may also help to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals.