Foods to Avoid After Colon Cancer Treatment

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When your colon cancer treatment is complete, your focus shifts to getting—and staying—as healthy as you can be. Food plays an important role in that. You may need to make some changes to your diet.

The more you know about eating after colon cancer treatment, the easier it is to make dietary choices that help you feel your best. Start with these tips:

Fatty Foods and Animal Products

High-fat foods may be tough on your digestive system after colon cancer treatment. For instance, fatty foods can make diarrhea worse. If you had surgery, fatty foods can be harder for you to digest.

Eating more plant-based foods will be better for your body. Plenty of research supports that. It's true for most everyone. It's especially true when you're trying to heal after colon cancer treatment. You don't have to go full vegetarian. But, it's a good idea to cut back on meat and other animal products.

Processed Proteins

Your body needs protein to rebuild muscle and give you energy. However, stay away from high-fat proteins, especially red meat and processed meat. Both of these are linked to colon cancer. Avoid foods like sandwich meat, hamburgers, steak, hot dogs, and bacon. Instead, opt for skinless poultry (like turkey and chicken) and fish. Other good sources of protein are tofu, eggs, seeds, nuts and beans.

Fiber-Rich Foods

Foods high in fiber can be hard to digest. After colon cancer surgery, you may need to cut back on these foods while you recover. The fiber can make food move through your digestive tract more slowly. That can be hard to tolerate. Skip whole grains, raw fruits, and vegetables with skin. Try cooked, canned, skinless produce to get nutrients with less irritation.

Dairy Products

Limit or avoid everything dairy after colon cancer surgery. Your digestive tract may not be able to break down milk, cheese, and other dairy products soon after treatment. After you recover, slowly introduce dairy products back into your diet.

Alcohol and Sugary Drinks

Alcohol is also connected to cancer risk so it's important to watch your consumption. Women should have no more than one drink a day. Men should have no more than two.

Don't drink beverages that have a lot of sugar because they may make diarrhea worse. This includes sodas and fruit juices. Also skip caffeinated beverages, such as tea and coffee. They can aggravate diarrhea, too. Aim for water and broth and liquids with electrolytes to stay hydrated.

Sugar-Free Foods and Drinks

Sugar-free products may contain a sugar substitute. For instance, chewing gum, candy, and other sweets often contain xylitol or sorbitol. Sugar substitutes can irritate your digestive system.

Spicy Foods

These foods also can upset your digestive system. If you have diarrhea, spicy foods can make it worse. In most cases, avoiding spicy food will be a temporary adjustment until your digestive system can handle the heat.

How to Cook and How Much to Eat

There's more to healthy eating than the foods themselves. Keep these tips in mind after treatment for colon cancer:

  • Avoid eating very large meals. These can be hard to digest. Eating too much at one time may also make you feel uncomfortable or even nauseous.

  • Prepare foods carefully. Cancer treatment can weaken your immune system. That means your body is less able to fight off infection and illness. This can last for at least several weeks after your treatment is done. As a general rule, don't eat foods that are raw, undercooked or not pasteurized. They may contain bacteria that can make you very sick. Avoid soft, unpasteurized cheeses and foods like raw sprouts.

  • Don't fry foods in oil and butter. You do need plenty of calories, but these fats can upset your gut. Instead, try broiling, stir-frying, boiling or baking your favorite dishes. Also choose foods that offer healthy calories and fats that are easier for you to digest.

In some cases, managing your digestive system and bowels after colon cancer treatment can be a trial of patience. Getting back to a regular diet takes time. If you are struggling, discuss it with your doctor. A referral to a registered dietitian may be helpful to get you back on track.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 19
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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