Constipation

Pain medicines, changes in your eating habits, and being less active can cause your bowels to move less often and stools to become harder to pass (constipation). If you’re constipated, try eating high-fiber foods. Also drink extra fluids during the day, eat at regular times, and try to increase your physical activity, if possible.

What to do

  • Try to eat at the same times each day.
  • Try to have a bowel movement at the same time each day.
  • Drink 8 to 10 cups of liquid each day, if it’s OK with your doctor. Try water, prune juice, warm juices, teas, and hot lemonade. (A hot beverage may help to stimulate a bowel movement.)
  • If you’re prone to constipation, try to set up a regular bowel plan. This may include an over-the-counter stool softener or psyllium fiber. Talk to your cancer care team about what to use.
  • Use laxatives only as directed by your cancer care team. Contact your team if you haven’t had a bowel movement for 3 days or longer.
  • If it’s OK with your cancer care team, eat high-fiber and bulky foods, like whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables (raw and cooked with skins and peels on), and dried beans. Add these slowly to your diet to help avoid bloating and gas.
  • Eat breakfasts that include a hot drink and high-fiber foods.
  • Ask your dietitian to recommend a high-calorie, high-protein, fiber-containing liquid supplement if you need more of these.
  • Limit drinks and foods that cause gas if it becomes a problem. (See list below.)
  • To help lessen the amount of air you swallow while eating, try not to talk much at meals and don’t use straws to drink. Avoid chewing gum and carbonated drinks.

Foods that might cause gas

  • Apples (raw), apple juice
  • Asparagus 
  • Avocado 
  • Beans and peas, dried 
  • Beer 
  • Broccoli 
  • Brussels sprouts 
  • Cabbage 
  • Cauliflower 
  • Collards 
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers 
  • Eggs 
  • Fish 
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Lentils
  • Melons 
  • Milk 
  • Mushrooms 
  • Mustard 
  • Nuts 
  • Onions, leeks, scallions 
  • Peppers
  • Pickles
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Sauerkraut
  • Spicy foods
  • Spinach
  • String beans
  • Strong cheese
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnip greens

Gas might also be caused by:

  • Chewing gum
  • Not taking in enough fluids
  • Drinking carbonated or fizzy drinks
  • Not getting exercise
  • Chewing with your mouth open
  • Constipation
  • Eating a lot of high-fiber foods
  • Eating foods and candies, chewing gum, and having drinks with sugar alcohols such as maltitol, mannitol, and xylitol (These products are often labeled “sugar free” or “no sugar added.”)
High-fiber foods to
choose more often
*
Serving size Dietary fiber (in grams)
Breads and cereals    

Bran cereals

Popcorn

Brown rice

Whole-wheat bread

Whole-wheat pasta

Wheat bran, raw

½ cup

2 cups

½ cup

1 slice

¼ cup

¼ cup

3-13

5

6

1-2

6

6

Legumes    

Kidney beans

Navy beans

Nuts

½ cup

½ cup

1 ounce

8

9

1-3

Vegetables    

Broccoli

Brussels sprouts

Carrots

Corn

Green peas

Potato with skin

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

1 medium

4

3

2

5

3

3

Fruits    

Apple with peel

Banana

Blueberries

Pear with skin

Prunes

Orange

Raisins

Strawberries

1 medium

1 medium

½ cup

1 medium

3

1 medium

¼ cup

1 cup

4

2

2

5

3

3

3

3

*Adapted from Eldridge B, and Hamilton KK, Editors, Management of Nutrition Impact Symptoms in Cancer and Educational Handouts. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: July 15, 2015 Last Revised: July 15, 2015

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