Having a feeding tube
After surgery or during a course of radiation therapy, you may find eating and swallowing uncomfortable or difficult. A feeding tube may be inserted to help you get the nutrition you need while your throat heals. This tube is usually temporary, but sometimes it is permanent.
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A feeding tube can help ensure you stay well nourished and hydrated. It can also help you maintain or gain weight. If you can’t swallow medicines, check with your doctor or nurse whether these can also be given through the feeding tube. Your health care team will show you how to care for the tube to prevent leakages and blockages. They’ll also let you know when the tube needs to be replaced. If the tube falls out, let your doctor know immediately. You can help prevent infections by washing your hands before using the tube, and keeping the tube and your skin dry.
Having a feeding tube inserted is a significant change, and it is common to have a lot of questions. Adjusting to a feeding tube takes time. Talking to a dietitian or nurse can help, and a counsellor or psychologist can provide emotional support and coping strategies.
A thin tube is put through your nostril, then down the throat and oesophagus into the stomach. This is called a nasogastric or NG tube.
This is usually used if you need a feeding tube for less than 4 weeks – for example, for the first few days or weeks after surgery when you’re unable to eat.
The NG tube is usually put in and removed by a doctor or nurse. You will be given specially prepared liquid nutrition through this tube.
A tube is inserted through an opening on your abdomen into the stomach. This is called a gastrostomy tube. It may be inserted while you are under light sedation.
The tube may be inserted:
- by endoscope (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy or PEG)
- under the guidance of an x-ray (radiologically inserted gastrostomy or RIG)
- surgically (surgical gastrostomy).
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A/Prof David Wiesenfeld, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Director, Head and Neck Tumour Stream, The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Melbourne Health, VIC; Alan Bradbury, Consumer; Dr Ben Britton, Senior Clinical and Health Psychologist, John Hunter Hospital, NSW; Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, QLD; Jedda Clune, Senior Dietitian (Head and Neck Cancer), Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Dr Ben Dixon, ENT, Head and Neck Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC; Emma Hair, Senior Social Worker, St George Hospital, NSW; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Kara Hutchinson, Head and Neck Cancer Nurse Coordinator, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Julia Maclean, Speech Pathologist, St George Hospital, NSW; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Andrea Wong, Physiotherapist, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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