This section has been reviewed and approved by the PLWC Editorial
Diarrhea is frequent, loose, or watery bowel movements. It may be caused
by chemotherapy, radiation therapy to the pelvis, or by the cancer
itself. Diarrhea may also be caused
by graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD) in people who have received
a bone marrow transplantation. Diarrhea may be
described according to the following stages established by the National
- Stage 0 is increased
stool frequency, but no diarrhea.
- Stage 1 is an increase
of less than four stools a day.
- Stage 2 is an increase
of four to six stools a day or nocturnal
- Stage 3 is an increase
of more than seven stools a day, or incontinence, or a need for
intravenous (IV) fluids to treat dehydration.
- Stage 4 is a severe
condition that requires intensive care.
Preventing diarrhea or treating it early can help a person avoid becoming
dehydrated or developing other problems. The following suggestions can
help manage mild (stage 1 or 2) diarrhea:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol,
dairy, fat, fiber, orange juice, prune juice, and spicy foods.
- Avoid laxatives, metoclopramide (Reglan,
used to prevent vomiting and constipation), and stool softeners.
- Eat small, frequent
- Drink plenty of water
and other liquids to prevent dehydration. People with severe
dehydration may need to receive IV fluids.
- Ask your doctor about
changing the schedule or dose of chemotherapy if the diarrhea is
caused by chemotherapy and is severe.
- Ask your doctor about antidiarrheal medications. Octreotide
(Sandostatin) can be used to treat
diarrhea caused by chemotherapy. No drugs have been approved for
preventing diarrhea caused by radiation treatments to the pelvic
area, but some are being studied. If diarrhea continues after
changes to diet, opioid medications may
help to relieve diarrhea.