Cancer Center New Mexico

Diarrhea can be a common side effect of cancer therapy.

DIARRHEA and Cancer Patients:

There are many reasons why a cancer patient may have diarrhea as some types of cancer grow, they can block the intestines and cause diarrhea. Some types of chemotherapy and radiation treatments to the abdomen can be a cause. It may last for a few weeks even after treatments are finished. Bacterial or viral infections can cause diarrhea in cancer patients, as well as other people. Nutrition supplements with large amounts of vitamins, minerals, sugar and electrolytes may worsen diarrhea. See your dietitian for more information.

Some of the signs of diarrhea:

  • Loose or watery stools (bowel movements) three or more times daily.
  • Abdominal cramps, pain, bloating.
  • Sore skin in the anal area, from frequent bowel movements.
  • Dehydration and fatigue, from excess water loss.

What should you do if you notice any of these symptoms: If you have 6 to 8 (or more) loose bowel movements daily for more than 2 days, you should call your doctor or nurse. You may need treatment to reduce or stop the diarrhea.

Other symptoms to call the doctor about include:

  • Loss of 5 or more pounds of body weight from diarrhea
  • Blood in the anal canal
  •  Blood in the stools or black stools
  • Abdominal cramps or pain for 2 or more days
  • Unable to drink fluids for more than 2 days
  • Sudden bloating of the abdomen
  • Diarrhea after several days of constipation.
  • Fever (38°C or more)
  • Symptoms of dehydration are: decreased urination, increased thirst, lightheadedness

DIARRHEA DUE TO MEDICATION: e.g. antibiotics or chemotherapy (except Irinotecan)

1. REHYDRATION: Drink at least 8 glasses of fluids a day (1 glass = 250mL). This can include water, fruit juice, soup, or sports drinks (e.g.Gatorade®). Solutions are also available to replace fluid losses. Examples include PEDIALYTE®, GASTROLYTE®.

2. DIET: Try to eat smaller meals, more often during the day. Try the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast). Avoid spicy foods, fried foods, coffee, tea, cola, alcohol, orange or prune juice.

3. MEDICATIONS: Temporarily stop any laxatives or stool softeners such as Senokot® or Colace® (docusate sodium). Also, if you are on any medications that could aggravate diarrhea, such as metoclopramide, or domperidone, please contact your doctor. Try the antidiarrheal IMODIUM® (loperamide): 2 tablets immediately, then 1 tablet after each loose bowel movement (the maximum dose is normally 8 tablets per day, until symptom-free for 12 hours, but in some cases or situations, this dose may be exceeded. Consult your doctor or pharmacist. Other medications are also available by prescription.

4. REMEDY FOR RECTAL PAIN: If you are experiencing pain in the rectal area, you can try a sitz bath. A sitz bath can be purchased at a pharmacy. Basically, it is a basin which contains moving lukewarm salted water [i.e. 2 teaspoons of salt in 1 Litre (1000 mL or 4 cups) of water] in which you can sit for a few minutes.