Diet and bowel symptoms among colon cancer survivors
Survival from colon cancer (CC) has improved considerably over the last decades, yet many survivors suffer from late sequelae from treatment. Typical symptoms of bowel dysfunction after treatment of CC are diarrhea, urge for defecation, fecal incontinence, bloating and constipation. Most CC survivors make dietary changes to alleviate bowel symptoms. We aimed to describe the self-perceived effects of diet on bowel function among CC survivors and the level of dietary information given.
In this cross-sectional study, CC patients from four surgical departments in Denmark completed surveys regarding the effects of diet on their bowel function and whether they had previously received dietary advice. Data concerning sociodemographic characteristics and the surgical procedure (right-sided or left-sided hemicolectomy) were collected from the Danish Colorectal Cancer Group database. Forty-four healthcare professionals specialized in CC completed a questionnaire on how they advise CC. Descriptive statistics were applied.
Among 1544 patients invited, 1239 (80.4%) responded, and 844 met the inclusion criteria (53% males, median age 72.6 years, median time since surgery 742 days). Among these, 267 (32%) reported that food affected bowel function. Fat was perceived to have a negative effect in 193 (25%), spices in 149 (19%), sweets in 101 (13%) and meat in 99 (13%). There was no association between tumor site and food categories affecting bowel function (p = 0.078). Most healthcare professionals (93%) stated that their unit gave advice about diet, but only 24% of patients remembered such information.
One-third of CC survivors perceive that food items, especially fat and spices have a negative impact on their bowel function. We found a major discrepancy between healthcare professionals reporting that they provide advice and the proportion of patients remembering this. There is an unmet need for further recognition of the role of diet in CC rehabilitation and for intervention studies of treatment principles.