Eating after surgery
Surgery that removes part of the digestive system, such as the oesophagus, stomach or bowel, will change the way you eat and digest food. This section covers the effects of particular types of surgery on nutrition. Suggestions for coping with common dietary issues after surgery, such as poor appetite, change in taste or smell, diarrhoea or nausea, are covered in the Treatment side effects and nutrition.
Learn more about eating after surgery for:
When part of the bowel is removed, many people have more frequent bowel motions (diarrhoea). This usually improves in a few months, but it may take longer for some people. Your doctor, nurse or dietitian might recommend a low-fibre diet that is easier to digest.
In some cases, surgery for bowel cancer creates a temporary or permanent stoma, an opening in the abdomen that allows faeces to leave the body (a bag is attached to collect the faeces). If you have a stoma, you may need to make some dietary changes until your body adjusts.
Your ability to chew and swallow may be affected after surgery to the head and neck. If you are having difficulty eating or drinking, seek advice from your dietitian and speech pathologist. In some cases, you may be given a temporary or permanent feeding tube to help you maintain or gain weight during this time.
For more on this, see Head and neck cancer.
Removing part or all of the stomach will affect what you can eat and how you eat. The change in the structure of the stomach may mean that you require smaller quantities of food more often and you feel fuller more quickly.
In addition, foods high in sugar move through the stomach faster. You may experience cramps, nausea, racing heart, sweating, bloating, diarrhoea or dizziness. This is called dumping syndrome, and it usually improves over time. Your treatment team can suggest dietary changes and medicines to help manage dumping syndrome.
Surgery that removes the oesophagus will change how you eat. After surgery, you will usually have a feeding tube, then progress to a liquid diet, followed by a diet of soft or moist foods. If you cough while eating or feel like the food is getting stuck in your throat when you swallow, consult your doctor, dietitian or speech pathologist immediately.
After surgery to remove part or all of the pancreas, your body may not be able to make enough enzymes to digest food and you may experience diarrhoea. If this occurs, your doctor and dietitian may advise you to take enzyme supplements with every meal.
Some people develop diabetes before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or soon after surgery. The way diabetes is managed varies from person to person, but it usually includes a combination of dietary changes and medicines.
For more on this, see Pancreatic cancer.
Jenelle Loeliger, Head of Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rebecca Blower, Public Health Advisor, Cancer Prevention, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Julia Davenport, Consumer; Irene Deftereos, Senior Dietitian, Western Health, VIC; Lynda Menzies, A/Senior Dietitian – Cancer Care (APD), Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Janice Savage, Consumer.
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