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Gastrointestinal Complications (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Diarrhea

Table 3. National Cancer Institute's Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events: Nausea and Vomitinga continued...

Uncomplicated symptoms

The current treatment of cancer-related diarrhea is often empiric and nonspecific. Whenever possible, treat underlying causes such as fecal impaction or modify the stimulant laxative regimen as necessary. Medications such as bulk laxatives and promotility agents (e.g., metoclopramide) are discontinued. Dietary modifications are commonly implemented to stop or lessen the severity of cancer treatment-related diarrhea.[7,23,24,29] One author recommends that patients consume foods that build stool consistency, are low in fiber, contain minerals, and do not stimulate or irritate the gastrointestinal tract.[20] In some cases, dietary modification for diarrhea management includes advising patients to eat small, frequent meals and avoid lactose-containing food (milk and dairy products), spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine-containing foods and beverages, certain fruit juices, gas-forming foods and beverages, high-fiber foods, and high-fat foods.[30] For mild cases of diarrhea, the BRAT (bananas, rice, apples, toast) diet may reduce the frequency of stools. When experiencing diarrhea, patients are encouraged to increase clear liquid intake to at least 3 L per day (e.g., water, sports drinks, broth, weak decaffeinated teas, caffeine-free soft drinks, clear juices, and gelatin).[12,31] (Refer to the Diarrhea subsection of the Nutritional Suggestions for Symptom Management section in the PDQ summary on Nutrition in Cancer Care for more information.)

While some case reports suggest the efficacy of glutamine in relieving diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms associated with cancer therapy, one randomized controlled trial that used oral glutamine to prevent pelvic radiation-induced diarrhea was unable to demonstrate any benefit.[32][Level of evidence: I][33,34]

The goals of pharmacologic therapy include inhibition of intestinal motility, reduction in intestinal secretions, and promotion of absorption. Absorbents include agents that form a gelatinous mass that gives density to fecal material. Methylcellulose and pectin are most commonly used, with little data to support their efficacy. These bulk-forming agents may not be well tolerated in some patients because of the large volume required for therapeutic effect and the associated abdominal discomfort and bloating. Adsorbents such as kaolin, clays, and activated charcoals have been used extensively, but no data support their use. Furthermore, they may inhibit absorption of other oral antidiarrheals that may be administered.

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