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Treating Diarrhea in Cancer Patients

Treating Diarrhea in Cancer Patients

Diarrhea is one of the common side effects of cancer treatment. Sometimes, Diarrhea itself can be a product of cancer. Learning Diarrhea signs and symptoms which are routine can help in detecting the magnitude of its severity. Accordingly, it would help you understand when to get in touch with your doctor.

Diarrhoea can be a cause of inconvenience for cancer patients, but in some cases, it could be a sign of something more critical health issues.

Also Read: Treating Diarrhea in Cancer Patients

Causes of diarrhoea in cancer patients

Falling sick with diarrhoea now and then isn't unusual. The things that can ordinarily cause diarrhoea can affect cancer patients too. But, there are additional causes of it in cancer patients, such as:

  • Cancer treatment: Cancer treatment methods, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy, can cause diarrhoea.
  • Infections: Patients undergoing Cancer treatment are more susceptible to catching hold of diseases, which can result in diarrhoea. Antibiotics consumed to treat the infection-causing germ can prolong diarrhoea.
  • Cancer: Certain types of cancer are known to cause diarrhoea, such as neuroendocrine tumours, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

Whatever causes it determines its duration and severity. You must get in touch with your doctor or nurse and talk to them in detail about your situation.

When to get in touch with your doctor?

Diarrhoea can make you miserable with constant bathroom visits. Further, it can lead to dehydration. For some people, the skin in the anal area can get raw and eventually break down. Hence, it is vital to treat diarrhoea right away.

Understanding the symptoms of diarrhoea:

Get in touch with your doctor immediately if you notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • Six or more bathroom visits a day for more than two days
  • Blood in your anus or stool
  • Weight loss resulting from it
  • A fever of 38 degrees C or higher
  • Inability to keep bowel movements in check
  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhoea lasting for more than a day
  • Diarrhea with dizziness

If diarrhoea and abdominal cramping start to interrupt your daily activities and stop you from going to places without a toilet nearby, then contact your doctor. Also, if you are taking chemotherapy in pill form, which is causing it, then ask your doctor whether it's safe for you to continue the medication.

Please note that you must mention every sign and symptom to your doctor.

Also Read: Side Effects of Chemotherapy

How to treat diarrhoea?

Diarrhea is treated depending on its severity. Changing your diet can stop mild diarrhoea, but severe Diarrhea may require medication. Sometimes, doctors prescribe intravenous fluids to replace the lost fluid. If this disease is diagnosed as one of the cancer treatment side effects, then the doctor might change the course of treatment.

Treating Diarrhea in Cancer Patients

In any case, you can try to stop diarrhoea from getting worse by altering what you eat and drink. Take one of the following actions:

  • Add more probiotics: Yogurt and dietary supplements have probiotics in generous amounts. Probiotics are bacteria, beneficial in nature, which can help restore healthy digestion. Two examples of probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. If you have undergone a bone marrow transplant before, then you must consult with your doctor regarding the intake of probiotics.
  • Make sure you drink clear liquids: Once you catch diarrhoea, it's better to resort to clear liquids such as clear broth, apple juice, and ice pops. Sports drinks, gelatin, and clear juices like peach, apricot, cranberry juice, and pear nectar are better than water because they have sugar and salt in them. Salted lime water and salted buttermilk can replace fluid-electrolyte losses. Avoid apple juice as it can induce this disease. Stay off from orange, pineapple, and tomato juices as they are too acidic. Forbid yourself from taking grapefruit juice as it can interfere with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other medications.
  • Food items high in soluble fibre, such as rice kanji, bananas, apples, oranges, and sweet lime, can help in holding the stools back.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay rehydrated and to prevent severe dehydration. To treat diarrhoea, you must take in 8-12 cups of water a day.
  • Bland food items with low fibre content such as bananas, poached or boiled eggs, applesauce, toast, and rice can help reduce bathroom visits. Make sure that you stop the diet after 72 hours as it doesn't guarantee high nutrition.
  • Stay off from food that irritates your digestive tract: These include spicy and fried foods, apart from alcohol, dairy products, high-fat diets, and beverages with caffeine. These can give you gas troubles.

Don't forget to have your meals on time, and five to six small meals a day would suffice. Once you start feeling better, you can go back to your regular diet.

Also Read: Home Remedies for Diarrhea

Specific Home Remedies for Diarrhea

  • Bananas: Opt for ripe bananas. They are high in pectin, a soluble fibre that aids in absorbing excess liquid in the intestines, making stools firmer.
  • Rice Water: Boil rice in water, strain, and consume the remaining liquid. Rice water forms a soothing layer in the intestines, aiding in the reduction of irritation.
  • Chamomile Tea: Infuse chamomile tea leaves or a bag in hot water for about 5 minutes. Chamomile’s properties include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and astringent effects, which can help soothe the digestive tract.
  • Ginger Tea: Prepare by boiling ginger root. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory and digestive properties can ease stomach discomfort and aid digestion.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Combine 1-2 teaspoons with water and drink before meals. Its antibacterial qualities may help in managing gastrointestinal issues.
  • Peppermint Tea: Steep peppermint leaves for a calming tea. Peppermint relaxes the muscles of the GI tract, potentially reducing diarrhoea symptoms.
  • Yoghurt with Live Cultures: Consume yoghurt with active cultures like Lactobacillus. Probiotics in yoghurt help restore gut flora balance, crucial in recovering from diarrhoea.
  • Blueberries: Eat fresh or juiced blueberries. Their antioxidants and soluble fibre can aid in digestive health.
  • BRAT Diet: Follow a diet comprising Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. These bland foods are gentle on the stomach and can help solidify stools.
  • Oral Rehydration Solution: Mix sugar and salt in water for a homemade rehydration solution, replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes.
  • Turmeric: Incorporate turmeric into water or meals. It’s known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, which can benefit digestive health.
  • Coconut Water: Drink coconut water for hydration. It's electrolytes and mild nature are ideal for rehydrating without irritating the stomach.

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Reference:

  1. Stein A, Voigt W, Jordan K. Chemotherapy-induced diarrhoea: pathophysiology, frequency and guideline-based management. Ther Adv Med Oncol. 2010 Jan;2(1):51-63. doi: 10.1177/1758834009355164. PMID: 21789126; PMCID: PMC3126005.
  2. Maroun JA, Anthony LB, Blais N, Burkes R, Dowden SD, Dranitsaris G, Samson B, Shah A, Thirlwell MP, Vincent MD, Wong R. Prevention and management of chemotherapy-induced diarrhoea in patients with colorectal cancer: a consensus statement by the Canadian Working Group on Chemotherapy-Induced Diarrhea. Curr Oncol. 2007 Feb;14(1):13-20. doi: 10.3747/co.2007.96. PMID: 17576459; PMCID: PMC1891194.
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