Starting a low-fiber diet on the first day of radiation treatment may help you avoid problems. The best choice of foods depends on your symptoms.
Some things can make symptoms worse, and should be avoided. These include:
Alcohol and tobacco
Almost all milk products
Coffee, tea, chocolate, and sodas with caffeine
Foods containing whole bran
Fresh and dried fruits
Fried, greasy, or fatty foods
Nuts and seeds
Popcorn, potato chips, and pretzels
Rich pastries and baked goods
Some fruit juices
Foods and drinks that are better choices include:
Apple or grape juice
Applesauce, peeled apples, and bananas
Eggs, buttermilk, and yogurt
Fish, poultry, and meat that has been broiled or roasted
Mild, cooked vegetables, such as asparagus tips, green or black beans, carrots, spinach, and squash
Potatoes that have been baked, boiled, or mashed
Processed cheeses, such as American cheese
Smooth peanut butter
White bread, macaroni, or noodles
Your doctor may have you use certain medicines such as:
Drugs that help decrease diarrhea, such as loperamide
Steroid foam that coats the lining of the rectum
Special enzymes to replace enzymes from the pancreas
Other things you can do include:
Eating foods at room temperature
Eating small meals more often
Drink plenty of fluids (up to 12 8-ounce glasses) every day when you have diarrhea. Some people will need fluids given through a vein (intravenous fluids).
Your health care provider may choose to decrease your radiation for a short period of time.
There often are no good treatments for chronic radiation enteritis. However, medicines such as cholestyramine, diphenoxylate-atropine, loperamide, or sucralfate may help. You may need to consider surgery to either remove or go around (bypass) a section of damaged intestine.
When the abdomen receives radiation, there is always some nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In most cases, the symptoms get better within 2 - 3 months after treatment ends.
However, when this condition develops, symptoms may last for a long period of time. Long-term (chronic) enteritis is rarely curable.
Call your health care provider if you are having radiation therapy or have had it in the past and are having a lot of diarrhea or stomach pain and cramping.
Czito BG, Willett CG. Radiation injury. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010: chap 39.
National Cancer Institute. Gastrointestinal Complications PDQ. Updated July 18, 2012.
Prather C. Inflammatory and anatomic diseases of the intestine, peritoneum, mesentery, and omentum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 144.
Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.