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Cancer Health Library : Oncology


Nutrition and Cancer - Nutritional Management of Diarrhea

Nutritional management of treatment side effects

There is more to nutrition during cancer and cancer therapy than getting enough calories and protein. The foods you choose also help you cope with side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chewing and swallowing difficulties, and taste changes.

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Nutritional management of diarrhea

Diarrhea is frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. It occurs when waste matter passes quickly through the bowel before your body has a chance to absorb the water from it. Diarrhea may cause dehydration -- a lack of water in your system. Thus, it is very important when you have diarrhea to drink a lot of fluids, especially water. Drink liquids that are at room temperature -- not hot or icy. If you have a sudden, short-term attack of diarrhea, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends taking in nothing but clear liquids for the next 12 to 14 hours. This lets your bowel rest and replaces the important fluids lost during the diarrhea. Discuss any difficulties with diarrhea with your physician or registered dietitian.

The following are good food choices if you have diarrhea:

  • Yogurt and cottage cheese
  • White rice, noodles, and potatoes
  • Farina or cream of wheat
  • Eggs (cooked until the whites are solid, not fried)
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • White bread
  • Canned, peeled fruits, and well-cooked vegetables
  • Skinned chicken or turkey, lean beef, and fish (broiled or baked, not fried)

Try to avoid the following:

  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Raw vegetables
  • Fruit seeds, skins, and stringy fibers
  • Vegetables with a lot of fiber such as broccoli, corn, dried beans, cabbage, peas, and cauliflower

Some people need to avoid milk and dairy products when they have diarrhea. This is because they may not tolerate the lactose contained in these products.

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