Is Constipation a Symptom of Cancer?

Reviewed on 1/21/2021

What Is Constipation?

Constipation can be a symptom of cancer, particularly tumors in the digestive system, abdomen, or those that press on the spine. Cancer treatments can also cause constipation.
Constipation can be a symptom of cancer, particularly tumors in the digestive system, abdomen, or those that press on the spine. Cancer treatments can also cause constipation.

Constipation is a condition in which the bowels move less often than usual or when the stool becomes hard or difficult to pass. Constipation is usually defined as fewer than three bowel movements a week, or stools are hard, dry, and small, and evacuation is painful or difficult. 

What Are Symptoms of Constipation?

Symptoms of constipation include: 

  • Small, hard bowel movements 
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Passing a lot of gas or frequent belching
  • Abdominal swelling/bloating
  • Not having regular bowel movements for 3 days 
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Confusion

Is Constipation a Symptom of Cancer?

Constipation can be a symptom of cancer, particularly tumors in the digestive system, abdomen, or those that press on the spine. 

Cancer treatments can also cause constipation, such as:

In addition to medications for cancer, other causes of constipation in cancer patients include: 

What Is the Treatment for Constipation?

For cancer patients, it is important to let your doctor know you are experiencing constipation and make sure they approve any measures you take to treat it, so that they do not interfere with your cancer treatments. 

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) stool softeners or fiber supplements may be recommended (talk to your doctor before using these products)
  • Try to eat at the same times each day 
  • Consume more fiber
    • Whole-grain breads and cereals
    • Fresh raw fruits with skins 
    • Fresh raw vegetables
    • Dates, apricots, raisins
    • Prunes and prune juice 
    • Nuts
  • Avoid or limit on any foods that may cause constipation, such as cheese or eggs
  • Drink more fluids
  • Exercise regularly 
  • Avoid foods and drinks that cause gas, such as: 
    • Apples
    • Avocados
    • Beans and peas
    • Cabbage
    • Broccoli
    • Milk and dairy products
    • Carbonated beverages
  • Avoid chewing gum and drinking with straws, which can cause gas
  • Do not use enemas or suppositories
  • Talk to your doctor about stopping any medication that is causing constipation
    • Never stop taking any prescribed medicine without first talking to your doctor

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Reviewed on 1/21/2021
References
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/constipation/Pages/definition-facts.aspx

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/stool-or-urine-changes/constipation.html

https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/constipation