ConstipationNot being able to pass stools regularly can be very uncomfortable.

Constipation (not being able to pass stools regularly) can often be very uncomfortable and may make you feel full and sick. It can be caused by:

  • Some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, biological therapy and surgery to the stomach or bowel
  • Anti-sickness and pain medications
  • Not eating enough fibre
  • Not drinking enough fluid
  • Not doing enough physical activity

It’s not necessary to have bowel movements every day. If your poos are hard and painful and you have not had a bowel movement for more than 3 days, the tips below can help.

If the blockage is caused by a tumour that partially blocks the stomach or intestine, the advice below does not apply. In this case, ask your doctor or oncology dietitian for advice.

If you have (or have had) colon cancer, we recommend that you go to an oncology dietitian or doctor before you change your diet.

What can help?

Eating a high-fibre diet

Try to eat at least 30g of fibre a day. When you are constipated, foods containing fibre together with enough moisture (from fluids such as water) can help make and keep your poo softer, which makes them easier to pass. Fibre also helps to move food through the gut. Choose wholegrain varieties like wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and wholegrains cereals like Weetabix and oats. Only do this if you can drink a lot with it.

If you eat a lot of fibre and drink little, your bowel movements will become even more difficult (and painful). The combination of fibre and enough fluids is therefore very important. Fibre is found in wholegrain products, such as wholemeal, seeded or granary bread, wholegrain cereals, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and pulses.

Your shopping list

High-fibre foods

Wholegrain, granary or wholemeal breads
Fruit and vegetables (with edible skin or peel on)
Wholegrain breakfast cereal
Brown rice and wholewheat pasta
Dried fruit
Seeds and nuts, like linseeds
Pulses, like beans, peas and lentils
Rye, digestive or bran biscuits and crackers

Drinking enough fluid

It’s important to drink plenty of fluid, particularly when eating more fibre as not drinking enough can make constipation worse.

As a guide, aim to drink at least 2 litres (3.5 pints) a day – this is at least 10­–14 glasses.

However, if you aren’t able to eat as much as you usually would, it may be best to discuss how much you should drink with your doctor or dietitian.

Some people find that having a warm drink when they wake up helps to get their bowel moving.

Keeping active

Keep as active as possible and, if you can, avoid spending too much time sitting or lying down. Some regular gentle exercise, such as going for a short walk every day, can help keep your bowel movements regular.

Breakfast every day

Make sure you start every day with a good breakfast, for example, a bowl of wholegrain cereal, porridge or muesli with fruit, wholemeal bread with peanut butter or a sliced banana, grilled tomatoes or mushrooms or a bowl of fruit with yoghurt and a sprinkle of nuts and seeds, and 1-2 glasses of liquid. Your intestines move less at night than during the day. By eating breakfast, you get your bowels going.

Medicines for bowel movement

There are medicines that make bowel movements easier. Ask your doctor about this. If you’re on morphine medications, a laxative is always necessary. Always ask your doctor which laxative to use.

Do not delay toilet visits

Go to the toilet right away if you feel you should – don’t put it off. Delaying it removes the stimulus and makes the blockage worse. Also, pay attention to your posture on the toilet. If necessary, place a footstool or step under your feet. This helps to ensure a better posture.

Quiet environment

Try to create a quiet environment with enough privacy in which you are relaxed enough to go to the toilet.

If things don’t seem to be improving, see your doctor. They may be able to prescribe laxatives. If you have bowel cancer, speak to your dietitian or doctor for advice before making any changes to your diet, as a high-fibre diet can make symptoms worse.