Bowel habits are unlikely to return to what they were before surgery for anyone who has had bowel cancer, according to more than 200 bowel cancer patients surveyed around the world.
When assessing their quality of life, the patients ranked overall bowel function as one of the most important, yet unacknowledged, aspects of bowel cancer care.
Many changes in bowel habit are caused by an alteration in the length and shape of the colon after surgery.
A shorter bowel means less time for water to be reabsorbed from the faeces as it travels through, so bowel movements can seem very loose and watery.
For some, this can be a serious struggle, in which case it’s worth seeking advice on how to manage and minimise symptoms.
For others, it’s just a matter of time before the changes become a new ‘normal’.
Diarrhoea, constipation, unpredictable bowel patterns, wind, and issues with stomas (both permanent and temporary) are some of the most common issues raised when speaking with our Bowel Care Nurses.
Over time, however, the body can adapt to these changes, and so it is often only a temporary issue.
Other issues are caused by changes in the shape and ability of the bowel to hold faeces once it reaches the end of the bowel, especially if the rectum has been removed or affected in some way by surgery or radiotherapy.
Some of the nerves that help to control the movement of the bowel and the muscles of the anus and bladder can be affected during surgery and this can cause issues with leaking of urine and soiling.
This may only be a short-term issue, but in some cases, it can become a longer-term issue and may need professional help and treatment to manage effectively.
Pelvic floor exercises, relaxation, regular activity and avoid sitting still for long periods can all help to improve the strength and control of the muscles in your abdomen and pelvis.
Controlling your diet and taking medicines to change the consistency of your faeces can also help to make bowel movements more predictable and comfortable to manage.
Finding a toilet can be difficult at the best of times, but for those living with unpredictable bowel habits, the National Public Toilet Map is a great resource.
It shows the location of public and private toilet facilities situated along major travel routes and shorter journeys.
In addition, useful information such as opening hours, availability of baby change rooms and accessibility for people with disabilities and details of other nearby toilets is provided. Details can be found at toiletmap.gov.au.
For more information related to changes in bowel habit, download our free Support, Care & Recovery: Living with Bowel Cancer booklet or order a copy by phoning 1800 555 494.
If you would prefer to speak directly with a Bowel Care Nurse, call the Bowel Cancer Australia Helpline 1800 555 494, Monday – Friday between 10am and 3pm.