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Constipation and Chemotherapy

The side effects of chemotherapy (chemo) depend on the type of chemo and the amount given. Watching for and managing side effects can help to limit them, and sometimes even prevent them.

Constipation and chemotherapy

Just as each person is different, so is their reaction to cancer and cancer treatment. You may have severe, mild, or no side effects. Talk with your cancer care team about the side effects you might have. It helps to do this before treatment starts. There may be things you can do to manage or prevent some side effects. For instance, you can do things to help prevent constipation during cancer treatment.

Chemo can cause constipation or hard, dry stools that you have less often. Stool may also be difficult to pass. You can also become constipated when you're less active, take certain medicines such as pain medicine or iron, or don't get enough fluid or fiber in your diet.

Call your healthcare provider if you aren't having bowel movements in the pattern that's normal for you. Your healthcare provider may suggest taking a laxative or stool softener. But don't take these measures without first checking with your healthcare provider.

What will help constipation?

The National Cancer Institute suggests these tips to help prevent constipation:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to help keep stool soft. If you don't have mouth sores, try warm and hot fluids, including water, to help relieve constipation.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your diet. You may be advised to increase your fiber intake. But this should only be done under the direction of your healthcare provider. There are some types of cancer and certain side effects of treatment for which a high-fiber diet is not advised. High-fiber foods include:

    • Bran

    • Whole-grain breads and cereals

    • Raw or cooked vegetables

    • Fresh and dried fruit with skins

    • Nuts and seeds

    • Dates, raisins, prunes, and prune juice

  • Exercise every day. You may want to try a more structured exercise program, or simply go for a walk. Talk with your healthcare provider about the amount and type of exercise that's right for you.

Ask your healthcare providers what symptoms you need to tell them about right away. Examples of some serious problems include not having a bowel movement in 3 days, not being able to eat, or having pain, cramps, or vomiting that doesn't stop. Also ask how much liquid you should drink every day. 

Talk with your healthcare providers about the medicines you can use to prevent constipation. If you have ongoing constipation problems, your healthcare providers can refer you to a nutritionist. The nutritionist can teach you more about eating certain foods and doing other things that might help solve the problem. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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