Radiation enteritis is a condition that is caused by inflammation of the small intestine due to radiation therapy. It is most commonly seen in individuals who receive radiation therapy for cancer in the abdomen and pelvic area. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, weight loss and others.

There are two types of radiation enteritis: acute and chronic radiation. Acute enteritis involves symptoms that show up during radiation treatments and usually last until about eight weeks after the last radiation treatment. Chronic enteritis, on the other hand, can cause symptoms that last for months or even years after the last radiation treatment.

Treatment options for radiation enteritis typically focus on relieving symptoms until the inflammation heals. In more severe cases, tube feeding or surgery may be required in order to prevent further complications and ensure a successful recovery.



Symptoms of radiation enteritis may vary, depending on which part of the intestines received the radiation. Common symptoms can include:  

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Rectal pain or bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite



The main cause of radiation enteritis is radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is given to patients for cancer treatments and involves the use high-powered x-ray beams to kill cancer cells. The therapy can also damage healthy cells in the lining of the intestines if an individual is exposed to higher dosages of radiation. Individuals with cervical, pancreatic, prostate, uterine, or colon cancer are usually at greater risk of developing radiation enteritis.

Risk factors

Several factors that can increase the risk of developing radiation enteritis include the following:

  • Exposure to high levels of radiation
  • The size of the tumor
  • Severity of symptoms
  • Chemotherapy
  • Prior abdominal surgery
  • High blood pressure levels
  • Diabetes
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Improper nutrition



Possible complications that can arise from radiation enteritis include the following:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Poor nutritional status
  • Significant blood loss
  • Malabsorption
  • Anemia
  • Iron deficiency
  • Loss of body fluids

Seeking proper medical attention is vital for these particular complications in order to prevent severe damage to the intestine and areas around it. 



Treatment options for radiation enteritis typically depend on an individual’s overall health status, location of the cancer, and duration. Common treatments can include:

  • Going on a low-fiber diet
  • Taking pain relief medications
  • Taking antidiarheal medications
  • Taking steroid foam that coats the lining of the rectum
  • Intestinal bypass surgery: A surgical procedure that involves removing the damaged sections of the intestine and connecting the healthy sections together.


The following foods should be avoided in order to prevent symptoms from worsening:

  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Dairy products
  • All caffeinated products
  • Greasy or fatty foods
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Raw vegetables
  • Popcorn
  • Strong spices and herbs
  • White bread
  • Apple or grape juice
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Bananas
  • Potatoes
  • Macaroni
  • Processed cheeses
  • Peanut butter
  • Rich pastries and baked goods



A few recommendations that can help decrease the likelihood of developing enteritis include the following:

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Avoiding exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Putting the body in the upmost proper position during radiation treatments in order to protect the small intestines
  • Adjusting radiation dosages
  • Placing clips at the affected area (tumor site) in order to make sure there is a more direct shot of radiation dose