Diarrhea is a common problem for people getting cancer treatment.
Diarrhea can be caused by:
- Some medicines that damage the lining of your intestines.
- Radiation therapy aimed at your belly or pelvis.
- Surgery to remove part of your intestines.
- A side effect of bone marrow transplants called graft-versus-host disease.
- Some infections that affect your bowels.
- Severe constipation. Sometimes when you get really constipated, watery stool is the only stool that can get past the hardened stool.
Some types of cancer, such as colon cancer, can cause diarrhea directly. Plus, the stress of having cancer can lead to diarrhea.
Diarrhea from cancer treatment may be just a minor problem or a sign of more serious problems. Always tell your doctor if you have diarrhea, especially if you see blood in it. Changes in your diet may solve the problem. Your doctor may prescribe medicine if your diarrhea is severe.
These ideas can help you manage diarrhea. The important thing is to replace the fluids you have lost, so you can prevent dehydration.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Take frequent sips of water and other clear liquids until you feel better.
- If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
- When you feel like eating, start with small amounts of food.
- This will help you get enough nutrition.
- If you still have diarrhea after 2 days, ask your doctor about medicine.
- Your doctor may recommend that you take over-the-counter medicine, such as loperamide (such as Imodium). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Do not take over-the-counter diarrhea medicine if you have bloody diarrhea, a high fever, or other signs of serious illness.
- Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
Cleaning up diarrhea
When cleaning up diarrhea, it is important to remember that germs can spread very easily. This can happen when people or items in the home come into contact with diarrhea. Careful cleaning can help reduce the chance of spreading germs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you wear disposable gloves when cleaning up diarrhea or other body fluids. You may wear reusable rubber gloves if you wash and disinfect them after each use. If you don't have gloves, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you are finished.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You are vomiting.
- You have new or worse belly pain.
- You have a fever.
- You cannot pass stools or gas.
- You have new or more blood in your stools.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You have new or worse symptoms.
- You are losing weight.
- You do not get better as expected.
Current as of: May 4, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kenneth Bark MD - General Surgery, Colon and Rectal Surgery