Nutrition and Cancer - Nutritional Management of Constipation

Nutritional management of treatment side effects:

There is more to nutrition during cancer and cancer therapy than getting enough calories and protein. The foods you choose also help you cope with side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chewing and swallowing difficulties, and taste changes.

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Nutritional management of constipation:

Some anticancer medications, pain medications, and other medications cause constipation, a condition in which the stool becomes hard and dry, making it difficult to pass. Waste matter that stays too long in the bowels so that too much water is absorbed from the stools will initiate constipation. The following suggestions may help to prevent or alleviate constipation:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water - at least eight big glasses every day.
  • Drink a hot drink such as hot tea about one-half hour before your usual time for a bowel movement.
  • Check with your doctor to see if you can increase the fiber in your diet. If you can, try foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, dried fruits, wheat bran, and wheat germ; fresh fruits and vegetables; and dried beans and peas. Eat the skin on potatoes.
  • Try to get some exercise every day to help prevent constipation.

If you have not had a bowel movement for a day or two, call your physician who may suggest taking a laxative or stool softener. High-fiber foods will help constipation but check with your physician or registered dietitian before you eat these foods because there are certain types of cancer for which a high-fiber diet is not recommended.

The following are high-fiber foods that may help to relieve constipation (if you are permitted to eat them; always consult your physician or dietitian for more information):

  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • dried fruits
  • wheat bran
  • wheat germ
  • fresh fruits and vegetables including the skin on your potatoes
  • dried beans and peas
  • oats
  • barley
  • brown rice

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