does cancer cause diarrhea

Mariah Brown

written by

Mariah Brown

update on

Greetings readers! Are you looking for information on whether cancer causes diarrhea? If so, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will explore the link between cancer and diarrhea, the causes, prevention, and treatment options available. As someone with experience in understanding the connection between cancer and diarrhea, I am here to provide you with valuable insights and helpful information. So let’s dive in and find answers to your questions about this often distressing symptom.

does cancer cause diarrhea

The Connection between Cancer and Diarrhea

Understanding the Causes

Diarrhea can be a common symptom experienced by cancer patients. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and certain medications used in cancer treatment can disrupt the normal functioning of the intestines, leading to diarrhea. These treatments may affect the lining of the digestive tract, causing an imbalance in the absorption of water, electrolytes, and nutrients, resulting in loose, watery stools.

Additionally, some types of cancer can directly affect the gastrointestinal system, leading to diarrhea. For example, tumors in the colon or rectum can obstruct the normal flow of stool, causing diarrhea as a result of partial blockage. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and certain hormone-producing tumors can also contribute to diarrhea in cancer patients.

Grades of Diarrhea

Diarrhea experienced during cancer treatment can vary in severity. The Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events (CTCAE) provides a grading system to assess the severity of diarrhea:

Grade Description
Grade 1 Increase of less than 4 stools per day over baseline, mild increase in stool consistency
Grade 2 Increase of 4-6 stools per day over baseline, moderate increase in stool consistency
Grade 3 Increase of ≥7 stools per day over baseline, incontinence, hospitalization, severe increase in stool consistency
Grade 4 Life-threatening consequences, urgent intervention required

It is essential to communicate any changes in bowel movements or consistency to your healthcare team for proper assessment and intervention.

Prevention and Treatment

While some degree of diarrhea may be unavoidable during cancer treatment, there are preventive measures and treatment options available to manage and alleviate this symptom:

  • Dietary Modifications: Your healthcare team may provide specific dietary recommendations to help manage diarrhea. These may include avoiding high-fiber foods, spicy or greasy foods, and foods that can contribute to intestinal gas.
  • Medication Adjustments: Your doctor may prescribe medications such as antidiarrheal agents or antimotility drugs to reduce the frequency and severity of diarrhea. However, it is crucial to consult with your healthcare team before taking any over-the-counter medications.
  • Hydration: Staying hydrated is vital during diarrhea. Drinking plenty of fluids, including water, clear broths, and electrolyte solutions, can help replenish lost fluids and prevent dehydration.

It is important to have open communication with your healthcare team regarding your symptoms and treatment options. They can help tailor a plan to manage your diarrhea effectively.

FAQ – Answering Your Common Questions

1. Does cancer always cause diarrhea?

No, not all cancer patients will experience diarrhea. However, it is a relatively common symptom during cancer treatment, particularly with certain types of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and medications.

2. How soon after cancer treatment can diarrhea occur?

Diarrhea can occur at any time during cancer treatment. It may develop soon after starting treatment or emerge later on, depending on the specific treatment regimen and individual response.

3. Can radiation therapy cause diarrhea?

Yes, radiation therapy can cause diarrhea. The likelihood and severity of diarrhea may depend on the area being treated and the dosage of radiation received. Your radiation oncologist can provide more information based on your specific treatment plan.

4. Does hormone therapy for cancer cause diarrhea?

In some cases, certain hormone therapies used in cancer treatment can contribute to diarrhea. It is essential to discuss any potential side effects with your healthcare team before starting hormone therapy.

5. Are there any natural remedies or supplements that can help with cancer-related diarrhea?

While some natural remedies and supplements are popularly believed to aid with diarrhea, it is crucial to consult with your healthcare team before trying any alternative treatments. They can provide guidance on what is safe and effective for you.

6. Can changes in diet help prevent or relieve cancer-related diarrhea?

Yes, dietary modifications can play a role in preventing and managing cancer-related diarrhea. Your healthcare team will guide you on specific dietary recommendations that can help alleviate your symptoms.

7. Can stress make cancer-related diarrhea worse?

Stress and anxiety can potentially exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea. Finding ways to manage stress, such as through relaxation techniques or counseling, may help improve symptoms.

8. Can diarrhea during cancer treatment lead to dehydration?

Yes, diarrhea can cause dehydration. It is crucial to drink plenty of fluids to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes. If you experience severe diarrhea or signs of dehydration, such as dizziness or decreased urine output, seek medical attention immediately.

9. Is it safe to take over-the-counter medications for diarrhea during cancer treatment?

It is essential to consult with your healthcare team before taking any over-the-counter medications for diarrhea during cancer treatment. They can advise on safe and appropriate options based on your individual circumstances.

10. How long does diarrhea typically last during cancer treatment?

The duration of diarrhea during cancer treatment can vary, depending on the underlying cause and individual response. Some individuals may experience short episodes of diarrhea, while others may have chronic or intermittent diarrhea. Your healthcare team can provide more information based on your specific situation.


Understanding the connection between cancer and diarrhea is crucial for both patients and their healthcare teams. Although experiencing diarrhea during cancer treatment can be distressing, there are strategies available to manage this symptom effectively. By communicating openly with your healthcare team and following their recommendations, you can alleviate discomfort and improve your overall quality of life. If you’re looking for more information on related topics, feel free to explore our other articles and resources. Stay informed, stay proactive, and remember that you are not alone in your journey to manage cancer-related symptoms.

– [Insert reputable source 1]
– [Insert reputable source 2]

Leave a Comment