A study looking at helping people cope with bowel problems after treatment for rectal cancer

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Rectal cancer





This study looked at a way of helping people to cope with bowel problems that they have after treatment to try to cure rectal cancer.
After treatment for rectal cancer, many people have bowel problems such as diarrhoea and incontinence Open a glossary item which can cause a lot of distress.
In this study, researchers looked at a way to help people manage these problems. They wanted to see if a bowel management programme led by specialist nurses is acceptable to people, if it could be looked at in a larger study, and if it could help people cope with bowel symptoms and improve their quality of life Open a glossary item.

Summary of results

This small study found that a nurse led bowel management programme could help people with bowel symptoms after treatment for rectal cancer.
The study was for people who were treated at the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust and the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust

28 people took part in this pilot study to examine changes in their bowel symptoms after rectal cancer surgery. They took part in the nurse led bowel management programme. This was a consultation with a specialist nurse and 2 follow up telephone consultations. The researcher also asked them to complete questionnaires about any bowel problems they had and their general health.
8 more people with bowel symptoms took part in detailed individual interviews with the study researcher at the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust. The researcher asked them what it was like to have the symptoms, how they coped and if they needed more support.
The researcher looked at all the completed questionnaires and the information from the interviews. The main findings were that

  • Most patients find these bowel problems very distressing and many of them do not know how to cope with bowel urgency and frequency
  • Some people didn’t want to tell their doctor or nurse about specific bowel symptoms that they had as they were too embarrassed, didn’t want to bother them, or hoped the problems would go away
  • Patients who had a temporary ileostomy could benefit from more counselling and education before surgery

 It is difficult to draw conclusions from such a small study. The researcher suggests that patients reporting bowel symptoms after surgery should be assessed and given basic advice and information. They should also be offered a referral to either a colorectal nurse or a bowel continence specialist Open a glossary item to help manage these symptoms.
The researcher used the study results to speak at conferences and events and she taught over 100 nurses on how best to deal with bowel problems after surgery.
The researcher suggests that a bowel management programme is useful and acceptable and could help this group of patients. She also suggests that patients with troublesome bowel symptoms should ask their doctor for a referral to see a specialist incontinence team.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial.  As far as we are aware, the information they sent us has not been reviewed independently (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) or published in a medical journal yet. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Claire Taylor

Supported by

NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
London North West Healthcare NHS Trust 
The National Cancer Survivorship Initiative

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Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Wendy took part in a new trial studying the possible side effect of hearing loss

A picture of Wendy

"I was delighted to take part in a clinical trial as it has the potential to really help others in the future.”

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