Constipation is defined as the decreased passage of stool characterized by infrequent bowel movements, hard stool, sensation of abdominal bloating or cramping, straining with bowel movements, and feeling of incomplete evacuation. Constipation can be a symptom of the cancer itself because of pressure that can partially or totally occlude the bowel. Constipation also can occur because of problems of immobility or dehydration as a result of cancer treatment that directly affects the bowel or innervation of the gastrointestinal tract and as a result of medication. Opioid-induced constipation is a problem in patients who require opioids for pain management.

The incidence of constipation among patients with cancer has not been well defined. In the palliative care population, prevalence of 40%–64% has been reported, and the symptom can be as high as 70%–100% among hospitalized patients with cancer.

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This topic was updated on February 27, 2017.

2011–2017 Authors

Deborah M. Thorpe, PhD, APRN, ACHPN, Katherine L. Byar, MSN, APN, BC, BMTCN, Susanne Conley, RN, MSN, CPON®, AOCNS®, Arlene B. Davis, RN, MSN, AOCN®, Lorraine Drapek, RN, OCN®, FNP-BC, Amber Hays, BSN, RN, Jeanne Held-Warmkessel, MSN, RN, AOCN®, ACNS-BC, Elizabeth S. Kiker, RN, MSN, OCN®, and Margaret J. Ramsdell, RN, MN, OCN®

ONS Staff: Margaret M. Irwin, PhD, RN, MN, Lee Ann Johnson, PhD, RN, Christine M. Maloney, BA, Kerri A. Moriarty, MLS, and Mark Vrabel, MLS, AHIP, ELS 


2009 Authors

Annette Kay Bisanz, RN, BSN, MPH, and Myra J. Woolery, MN, RN, CPON®

ONS Staff: Linda H. Eaton, MN, RN, AOCN®


2007 Authors

Annette Kay Bisanz, RN, BSN, MPH, Myra J. Woolery, MN, RN, CPON®, Hannah F. Lyons, MSN, RN, BC, AOCN®, Lindsay Gaido, MSN, RN, Mary Yenulevich, BSN, RN, OCN®, and Stephanie Fulton, MSIS

ONS Staff: Linda H. Eaton, MN, RN, AOCN®