Cancer, cancer treatment, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are all known to cause bowel problems. The two most common bowel problems among cancer patients are diarrhoea and constipation. However, they may also have bowel obstructions, difficulty passing wind, or a colostomy or ileostomy. Bowel problems are understandably distressing, especially when they interfere with your daily life. Consult your doctor or nurse; they may be able to recommend treatment.
Diarrhoea occurs when you need to excrete more frequently than usual. It can be a minor side effect of treatment, but it can be severe in some people. If you have diarrhoea, notify your doctor. Diarrhoea is typically defined as having more than three unformed stools in a 24-hour period.
Look out for:
- an increase in the frequency and volume of bowels movements each day
- a change in the appearance of your stool – if it changes from solid to soft or watery
- cramping pains in your abdomen or bloating
- If you have a colostomy or ileostomy and you are emptying your stoma bag more frequently than usual, this could be a sign of diarrhoea.
Severe diarrhoea can cause significant fluid loss and dehydration. If you do not receive treatment, you may become very ill. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor right away:
- a high temperature – fever or chills
- signs of dehydration
- blood or mucus in your stool
Constipation means that you do not have regular bowel movements. You may be without one for a few days or longer. Early constipation symptoms may include:
- difficulty and pain when passing a stool
- fewer than 3 poo’s a week
- hard poop that looks like small hard pellets
- feeling bloated and sluggish
Severe constipation can cause more serious symptoms such as:
- overflow diarrhoea
- loss of appetite, headache, sickness, restlessness
- urinary retention
Faecal impaction / Chronic constipation
Faecal impaction is another term for chronic constipation. It occurs when you are constipated on a regular basis for an extended period of time. A faecal impaction is characterised by the presence of a large amount of dry, hard stool or faeces in the back passage (rectum).
The symptoms of impaction resemble those of constipation. However, other, more serious symptoms may occur. These include:
- back pain due to the mass of poop pressing on the sacral nerves
- high or low blood pressure
- a high temperature (fever)
A blocked bowel (bowel obstruction)
A bowel obstruction indicates that the bowel is blocked. It is a serious complication that is much more common in advanced cancer patients. Your bowel may become completely or partially obstructed. This means that waste from digested food cannot pass through the blockage.
The symptoms include:
- feeling bloated and full
- colicky pain
- vomiting large amounts
Intestinal gas, also known as flatus or flatulence, is normal for everyone. It is not usually a serious issue or a sign that your cancer is progressing. However, it can be embarrassing, worrying, and unsettling. People pass wind 15 to 25 times per day on average. However, illness, diet, and stress can all increase the amount of wind you pass.
Having a colostomy or ileostomy
A colostomy is an opening of the large bowel onto the abdomen’s surface. You wear a bag over the opening to collect waste from digestion that would normally be passed out of the body as a bowel movement.
- What leads to these bowel issues?
Cancer treatment and subsequent therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation suppress the immune system, causing bowel issues. The body is already weak during these treatments and lacks the strength to fight infections, while also interfering with metabolism and absorption processes. This, in turn, causes external infections to disrupt the body’s bowel mechanisms. In addition, poor eating habits during cancer treatment cause the bowels to function abnormally. In fact, bowel problems are unavoidable if the cancer is related to any organ that has a direct link with the bowel.
- Why does chemotherapy cause gastrointestinal distress?
While chemotherapy transports the chemical that has the potential to kill fast-growing cells, it also kills normal and healthy cells during the process. As a result, the bone marrow is disturbed, which then associates with the digestive fire, resulting in gastrointestinal distress. Because every cancer patient’s body is already in distress, these chemical reactions make it difficult for the body to regulate its metabolism for proper bowel function.
- What can a patient do naturally, at home to move their bowels?
A patient can use a variety of home remedies to control bowel movements at home, including:
- Ginger – ginger tea
- Fennel Seeds
- Mint leaves – Mint tea (which will help in managing nausea, vomiting and loose stools)
- Lemon – lemon water
- Rock Salt
- Which cancer is mostly associated with bowel problems?
- Colon Cancer
- Gastro-intestinal Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- By when can the patients expect a change in their bowel movements after undergoing chemotherapy and after incorporating the Ayurveda regimen?
In case of chemotherapy, patients generally will get their bowel movements restored as the chemotherapy drug eases on the body, which will happen after a week of the completion of the chemotherapy cycle. Ayurveda treatments and natural home remedies, on the other hand, can relieve their pain and bowel issues within two or three days of beginning the course.
While bowel problems do not affect every cancer patient, they are a major source of concern for many. The bowel is a very important part of the body that plays an important role in the digestive system. The bowel problem develops when the digestive tract is compromised, compromising an individual’s overall quality of life. Because cancer affects every system of the body, even minor changes in eating habits, food location, or body structure can cause bowels to function irregularly and uncontrollably. However, the following are some of the causes of bowel problems during cancer treatment:
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy suppressing their immune system
- External infections
- Weak immune, insufficient strength
- Improper food habits
- Low metabolism levels
- Nutrient absorption difficulties
Furthermore, the changes caused by chemotherapy and chemo chemical drugs disrupt the bone marrow and digestive fire, resulting in gastrointestinal distress. These chemicals make it difficult for the immune system to regulate proper metabolism, causing gastrointestinal symptoms and acidity in the body.
Ayurveda has three components that deal with the overall balance of the body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, also known as the Tridoshas. While Vata and Pitta represent fire in the body, Kapha represents water. Because the chemo drugs have high potencies, they disrupt the otherwise stable flow of Pitta and cause the patient to have loose stools. When Pitta is in balance, it is responsible for all types of metabolisms; however, when the body undergoes cancer treatment, it secretes disturbed Pitta, which causes stool imbalances in the majority of cancer patients. To alleviate the hot temperature of the body, the patient should drink healthy, slightly cold fluids.
In fact, Ayurveda is a science that has a solution for every body type, disease, possibility, and problem. Ayurvedic experts typically recommend dry ginger powder and fennel seeds for bowel issues and overall effects on chemotherapy regulation. Ginger is a digestive element that will stimulate or rekindle the digestive fire – “Agni,” ultimately helping to improve the digestive system. It will not only increase the absorption of digestive enzymes, but it will also speed up the entire digestive process. It plays an important role in the gut and also helps to keep the fire going in the gut so that the bowel process runs smoothly.
Moving on, the Sativa plant, which produces Medical Cannabis, is also beneficial in the regeneration of bowel movements. It aids the Agni’s function by improving absorption in the body. Surprisingly, the gut and brain are interconnected, causing stomach and abdominal distress. Because Cannabis is a herb that affects both systems, taking Medical Cannabis in properly prescribed dosages will ultimately help the cancer patient in restoring both their gut and mental health. At one end, it relaxes your brain, which in turn relaxes your gut. In fact, Medical cannabis has been shown to be effective in treating psychosomatic disorders and physiological imbalances, including bowel issues.
While bowel issues are a natural side effect of cancer, treatment, chemo and radiation therapy, it can be managed with appropriate Ayurveda and Medical Cannabis consultation and research-based approaches.
Snippets from the survivors:
“You can go for hundreds of surgeons or doctors, but don’t switch your medical practitioners once you finalise on your treatment.”
While bowel issues were a very common treatment side-effect for our Colorectal Cancer Survivor – Manisha Mandiwal, there are various ways through which he tried to manage his bowel issues. His treatment was essentially covered in three parts, radiation therapy along with oral chemotherapy, main surgery, followed by the subsequent chemotherapy sessions. While he found the treatments to be very easy and smooth to administer, the side effects were the major cause of his concern, like any cancer patient. Since he had colorectal cancer, radiation beams burnt his tumour in colon and rectal portions, thereby making his organs bleed internally through cuts. Their after effects were especially observed when he had to go to the loo with the sheer amount of uncontrollable pain. In fact, while he was undergoing his radiation treatment, he could not even hold his baby, for the radiation beams in his body were so strong and harmful for the baby.
After the colostomy, I used to walk for a few minutes, climb up and down the stairs for a few minutes and then rest, which eventually helped me a lot in my recovery and managing the bowel issues. In fact, after the chemotherapy sessions, I used to fall weak and have pain, just for a day or two, after which I was all back to normal. Interestingly, there was not even a single shred of hair that fell from my head. Ironically, chemo was a golden period, cake walk for me.
While some people get diarrhoea, others get constipation. In that phase of my life, I used to get a lot of constipation issues, which ultimately led to my unstable bowel problems. The doctor gave me a couple of tablets including Duphalac, Lactulose Solution, Gutclear, Loose, and a lot of other medicines. While not many suited my body and my cancer, it was Duphalac which saved my system at that time and gave me relief over the bowel issues. Interestingly, Duphalac does not suit his father, but him. He claimed that while the content would be the same, the company would be different and their reactions to different body types having the same cancer would also be different.
However, the first thing he pleads with every cancer patient to focus on is having a good mind-set. It is only when you have a positive attitude and are motivated to be better, can he or she follow through the entire treatment process. He also mentioned that since cancer is very much specific to each body and type, it is therefore mandatory to find a plan for yourself and not follow anyone’s advice blindly. Only when you understand and research about your cancer type and your body, will you be able to find the perfect fit for your cancer treatment and manage its side effects.
“Your medical practitioner will take care of you. Don’t try to self-medicate yourself.”
One should leave their internal body issues like diarrhoea with their medical practitioners. Since everybody is different and needs a different dosage, it is always better to be treated by the medical practitioner. Sometimes, his dosages had to be modified to fit his current treatment regimen or to fit the condition his cancer was in. This is when the doctors did wonders. They identified the correct medications in the appropriate dosages, that fit his overall treatment regimen.