Is Frequent Diarrhea a Sign of Cancer?

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDJuly 16th, 2021

Is Frequent Diarrhea a Sign of Cancer?

Diarrhea is a common—yet extremely unpleasant—condition. Although diarrhea is usually characterized by frequent loose or watery bowel movements, it can also cause symptoms such as a fever, abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, and nausea.

If you’ve been experiencing diarrhea on a fairly frequent basis, you may be wondering what’s causing it. Could it be something as serious as cancer? Although it’s much more likely for diarrhea to result from a less serious condition, in rare cases, frequent diarrhea can be a symptom of cancer. Some of the cancers that can cause diarrhea include:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Medullary carcinoma of the thyroid gland
  • Neuroendocrine tumors
  • Pancreatic cancer

In the event that someone’s diarrhea has resulted from cancer, that person will likely experience a number of other cancer symptoms, as well. For example, in addition to diarrhea, someone with pancreatic cancer might experience weakness, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), a burning sensation within the stomach, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, and various other symptoms.

Other Potential Causes of Diarrhea

If you’re experiencing frequent diarrhea, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions and assume the worst. Although diarrhea can result from the cancers listed above, it’s important to remember that most cases of diarrhea are caused by a much less serious condition than cancer. Some more common causes of diarrhea include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Celiac disease
  • Contaminated food and water
  • Food allergies
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Viral infections such as COVID-19, cytamegalovirus, Norwalk virus, rotavirus, and viral hepatitis

Certain medications, including antibiotics and antacids containing magnesium, can also cause someone to experience diarrhea. Likewise, some artificial sweeteners, such as mannitol and sorbitol, can lead to diarrhea.

Why It’s Important to Seek Treatment for Diarrhea

Although mild cases of diarrhea will often resolve on their own or with the help of over-the-counter medication, it’s important to consult with a medical provider if:

  • You’ve had diarrhea for more than two days
  • Your stools are black or bloody
  • You have a fever greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • You’re experiencing severe pain within your abdomen or rectum

Diarrhea causes the body to lose a considerable amount of fluid, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if left untreated (when this occurs, treatment may require the administration of IV fluids). More severe cases of diarrhea may also require prescription medication. And even if your diarrhea never progresses to this level of severity, a medical provider could still help determine exactly what’s causing your bowel issues and recommend steps that you can take to reduce how frequently you experience diarrhea moving forward.

In-Home Treatment for Diarrhea

If you’re experiencing diarrhea, you’re probably hoping to avoid venturing too far away from your home. Depending on how often you’re having to run to the bathroom, it could be impossible—or at the very least uncomfortable—to drive to your doctor’s office, sit in the waiting room, undergo an examination, and then travel back home again. You might not know exactly when the next bout will occur, and you want to have easy access to a toilet at all times.

So, does that mean that you have to wait for your symptoms to ease up before you can seek professional treatment? Not when you turn to DispatchHealth. Our mobile healthcare providers treat patients in the comfort of their own homes for about the same price as a traditional urgent care visit. Once we arrive at your home, we’ll speak with you about your medical history and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, perform an examination, diagnose your condition, and administer any necessary treatments (we’ll even call in any prescription medications for you). Although chances are good that your diarrhea is nothing to be overly concerned about, if we suspect that it might have a more serious underlying cause—whether it be cancer or something else—we’ll recommend the appropriate next steps to take.

To request a visit from DispatchHealth, call us, visit our website, or download our mobile app today. One of our teams will arrive within just a few hours to provide you with the prompt and convenient care you deserve.

* Please note: For life-threatening and time-sensitive injuries and illnesses, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. DispatchHealth shouldn’t be used in a life-threatening emergency and doesn’t replace a primary care provider.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

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The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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