After treatment for colon cancer, a person may need to follow a specific diet. They may need to avoid foods that irritate the colon and eat foods that are soft, easy to digest, and low in fiber.

According to Cancer Research UK, it can take some time for the digestive system to settle and for the bowels to work normally after treatment for colon cancer. A person may need to avoid certain foods.

This article explores the dietary considerations after colorectal cancer treatment, the nutritional guidelines, foods to avoid, and more.

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According to recent review, a person who has undergone treatment for colon cancer should follow a special diet.

A healthcare professional will be able to provide more detailed information about the foods a person should eat or avoid. They will consider a person’s medical condition and individual needs.

Diet considerations after colorectal surgery

Surgery is the primary treatment for colorectal cancer and may involve removing some or all of the colon.

Sometimes, postoperative damage may occur in the gastrointestinal tract organs. If this happens, certain foods that a person eats may irritate the intestines or worsen the side effects of surgery.

Cancer Research UK suggests eating small and frequent meals, taking small mouthfuls, and chewing food slowly, as well as making the following dietary choices:

  • eating foods that are high in protein and calories, such as meat, fish, and eggs
  • eating foods that are low in fiber, such as white bread, white pasta, and peeled, cooked vegetables
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • reducing caffeine intake, as caffeine can stimulate the bowels

Diet considerations after chemotherapy and radiotherapy

People may also need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy for colon cancer.

These treatments can cause diarrhea. However, this should subside a few weeks after treatment ends. In the meantime, a person can take medications to manage the diarrhea. They should also avoid foods that can worsen diarrhea.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests:

  • drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, flat ginger ale, and sports drinks
  • eating 5–6 small meals per day
  • consuming foods that are high in potassium and sodium, such as mashed potatoes and bananas
  • eating low fiber foods such as plain yogurt and white toast

Chemotherapy can also cause a person to develop a sore mouth and nausea. These side effects should resolve once treatment is over. However, to ease mouth sores, a person can:

  • eat and cook foods that are easy to chew
  • use sauces, such as gravy, to soften food
  • drink using a straw
  • eat using a small spoon in order to take smaller bites
  • avoid tomatoes, spicy foods, and citrus fruits

If a person is experiencing nausea, they should choose foods that appeal to them and are gentle on the stomach, such as bananas, toast, and applesauce.

The soft food diet consists of foods that are easy to chew and swallow and avoids foods that have a hard texture.

The NCI provides the following examples of foods that are easy to chew and swallow:

Example foods
Drinks• smoothies
• protein shakes
Main meals• baby food
• chicken salad
• tuna salad
• casseroles
• cream of rice
• cottage cheese
• mashed potatoes
• pureed cooked foods
• soups
• stews
• scrambled eggs
Snacks and desserts• soft-boiled eggs
• applesauce
• mashed banana or other soft fruits
• yogurt
• pureed fruit
• sorbet

Learn more about the soft food diet.

A diet of mainly low fiber foods — also known as a low residue diet — contains foods that are easily digested and absorbed, such as:

Example foods
Meat, poultry, fish, and protein• smooth peanut butter
• tofu
• ground meat
• fish
• eggs
Dairy• milk
• yogurt
• cheese
• cottage cheese
Breads, grains, and cereals• plain pasta or noodles
• white bread
• white rice
• low fiber breakfast cereals, such as cornflakes
• crackers, zwieback, melba, and matzoh (no cracked wheat or whole grains)
Vegetables• vegetables that are well cooked or canned, with no skins or seeds
• cooked potatoes without skins
• strained vegetable juices
Fruits and desserts• fruit that is soft or canned, without skins or seeds
• well-ripened bananas
• juices that are clear or strained
• soft melon, in small amounts

It is important to drink plenty of fluids with a low fiber diet. This will help prevent constipation.

Learn more about foods that are low in fiber.

The following foods may cause an upset stomach after treatment for bowel cancer:

  • fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber
  • cabbage
  • onions
  • Brussels sprouts
  • pulses such as baked beans and lentils
  • fizzy drinks and beer
  • very rich or fatty foods

People may also wish to avoid:

  • citrus fruits and juices
  • spicy foods
  • raw vegetables
  • sharp or crunchy foods

Some cancer treatments can make people more prone to food poisoning.

To avoid this, individuals can take special care by implementing these practices when handling and preparing food:

  • washing the hands regularly before and after preparing foods and before eating
  • ensuring that foods are refrigerated at or below 40°F
  • ensuring that hot foods remain warmer than 140°F and cold foods remain cooler than 40°F
  • thawing meat, fish, and poultry in the microwave instead of leaving them out at room temperature
  • washing fruits and vegetables before peeling them
  • rinsing packaged salads and other prepared produce under running water
  • avoiding purchasing precut fruits and vegetables from the grocery store

People should also:

  • prevent cross contamination from raw foods
  • cook foods to safe temperatures
  • refrigerate foods promptly and properly
  • avoid foods that increase the risk of foodborne illnesses, such as:
    • raw or partially cooked seafood
    • unpasteurized milk
    • raw or undercooked eggs

After colon cancer treatment, a person’s diet should continue to focus on good nutrition. People may find it beneficial to eat foods that are soft, low in fiber, and easy to digest.

A person should be able to return to their usual diet once their bowels settle after treatment. This can take a few months, depending on the type of treatment.

Once an individual recovers or treatment side effects lessen, they can eat their typical foods while maintaining a nutritious diet.

The American Cancer Society website has many recipes for nutritious meals and snacks.