You may have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) before, during or after treatment. This may be because of where the tumour is or because of swelling in the oesophagus after surgery. Signs that swallowing is difficult include taking longer to chew and swallow, coughing or choking while eating or drinking, or food sticking in your mouth or throat like a ball. These symptoms should ease after 10–12 weeks.
Some people find that food and fluid goes into the windpipe instead of the food pipe. This is called aspiration and it can block the airways and make breathing difficult.
How to manage swallowing difficulties
- Change the consistency of what you eat by chopping, mincing or pureeing.
- Make food softer (e.g. mash food or use a slow cooker) to keep it moist.
- Between meals, snack on soft foods, such as avocado, yoghurt, ice-cream, diced tinned fruit and drink milkshakes.
- Chew carefully and slowly, sitting still and upright. Try to avoid talking while eating.
- Avoid dry foods – add extra gravy or sauce to your meals.
- Wash food down with small sips of fluid.
- Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you are losing weight. They can help you find foods that give you enough nutrition and help you maintain your weight.
- See a speech pathologist for suggestions on the types of foods to include and ways to eat and drink safely.
- Add nutritional supplement drinks to your diet to help maintain your strength. Examples include Sustagen, Resource and Ensure.
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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