Constipation

Constipation is when you have infrequent bowel movements and stool that can be hard, dry, and difficult to pass. You may have stomach cramps, bloating, and nausea when you are constipated. These symptoms may be caused by cancer, cancer treatments, or changes to your lifestyle while you are undergoing treatment.

Constipation is a common symptom for people with cancer, but there are many options for managing it.

Dealing with Constipation

You can deal with constipation by understanding its causes and learning tips to prevent and treat it.

Causes of Constipation

A number of things can cause constipation, including cancer treatments, pain medicines, other medical conditions or medicines, not drinking enough fluids, changes in your eating habits, and being less active. But there are things you can do about it.

Manage Constipation

Take these steps to prevent or treat constipation:

  • Drink 8 to 10 cups of liquid daily, if it’s approved by your doctor. Try water, prune juice, and warm liquids.
  • Try to eat at the same times each day.
  • Eat high-fiber foods, like whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables (raw and cooked with skins and peels on), and beans, if approved by your cancer care team.
  • Eat fewer foods that are low in fiber such as processed foods, cheese, and meat.
  • Ask your dietitian for recommendations on foods and supplements to help with constipation.
  • Talk to your doctor about using laxatives (substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements) or stool softeners. 
  • Try to do more daily physical activity. Ask your cancer care team about exercises you could do.

Seek medical attention if you have constipation and belly pain and/or vomiting.

Get Support

For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.

Talk to Your Health Care Team

Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.

Talk to Family and Friends

Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.

Find Peer Support

Talk About Your Concerns

Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.

Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online

The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.

NCI Cancer Information Service

Call

Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.

Chat

The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.

ACS National Cancer Information Center

Get Tips

Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Chat

The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.

Learn More About Constipation

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including:

The American Cancer Society’s book What to Eat During Cancer Treatment has recipes to help you cope with a number of side effects that can affect your ability to eat during treatment.