Dysfunctional bowel movements, whether diarrhoea or constipation, can be inconvenient at best and painful at worst. It is common for people with advanced cancer to suffer from one of these, or both at different times.
Constipation is defined as the passage of small, hard stools infrequently and with difficulty. It can be a result of the cancer itself and is not helped by inactivity, dehydration, poor nutrition or medications such as morphine. The discomfort of constipation can be distressing not only for the person who has it, but for caregivers, who often feel powerless to help.
Diarrhoea is defined as the passage of frequent loose stools with urgency (ie. more than three loose stools within a 24-hour period). Medications, chemotherapy, a lack of fibre (especially if you are having trouble digesting food), conditions such as radiation enteritis (swelling of the small intestine from ongoing radiation therapy) and anxiety can all contribute to this problem.
Urinary incontinence, or a loss of bladder control, may also be a problem, particularly for people who have had major surgery for prostate and colorectal cancers. Many people with incontinence find it is necessary to use continence products such as pads, pants, catheters, or bedding protection to manage their condition.
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Life, Hope & Reality was developed and written by Afaf Girgis, Claire Johnson, and Sylvie Lambert with funding from the NHMRC and Cancer Council NSW.
Last updated 30 August 2015