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Tips for Side Effects

Dear Iris: This is Awkward... Leaky Bowels

Dear Iris,

I’m currently going through treatment and have been experiencing the challenging side effect of leaky bowels – talk about embarrassing. Looking for advice on what might be causing this issue and, more importantly, how long I should expect to deal with these side effects. The unpredictability of leaky bowels has been quite worrisome for me, and any guidance on managing this would be greatly appreciated.


Dear E,

Thank you for sharing, this is a question we do hear often. Dealing with leaky bowels during treatment is undoubtedly challenging and can feel quite awkward. Please know that you're not alone in facing this issue, as leaky bowels are a common side effect for many.

Leaky bowels can result from various factors, including the type and location of your cancer—colorectal cancers, for instance, often lead to symptoms like diarrhea. Additionally, treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapies, and targeted therapies may irritate the colon lining, contributing to these uncomfortable side effects. Radiation targeting the abdomen and pelvic area can similarly disturb the lining of your gut, leading to diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and changes in bowel habits. Even dietary choices can play a role in intensifying these symptoms.

As for how long these side effects may last, it largely depends on several factors, including the type of treatment you're undergoing. Generally, symptoms like diarrhea tend to improve within 2-6 weeks after completing radiation therapy. With chemotherapy or immunotherapies, improvement often begins a few weeks after the treatment ends, as your body gradually regains balance.

It's important to acknowledge, though, that for some individuals, these issues may persist longer and require ongoing management. In such cases, a conversation with your care team is crucial to address your specific needs and concerns.

And remember, the Iris Care Team is also here to help you manage side effects, if you have any questions, please send us a Message. 

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Meera Ravindranathan, MD

Medical Director

Iris Oncology

Dr. Meera Ravindranathan is a Medical Director at Iris. Dr. Ravindranathan has more than 15 years of experience treating a wide range of cancers. Dr. Ravindranathan is a graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. She then did her residency in Internal Medicine as well as fellowship training in medical oncology at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Dr. Ravindranathan worked in academia in the early part of her career where she was involved in research and teaching at the University of New Mexico Cancer Treatment Center. In addition, she was selected to complete the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Methods in Clinical Cancer Research Workshop. Dr. Ravindranathan has authored numerous articles that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. She then was in private practice in San Diego, California where she still participated in clinical trials but focused mainly on treating adult cancer patients. She maintains a part-time clinical practice in California. Her passion is delivering excellent care and quality improvement in medicine.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.