You may have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) before, during or after treatment. This may be because of where the tumour is located or a side effect of treatment. 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. 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 cause difficulty breathing.
It is important to change your diet so that you can still get enough nutrition, and to prevent losing weight and strength. A speech pathologist can give you strategies to help you eat and drink safely.
How to manage swallowing difficulties
- Change the consistency of your food by chopping, mincing or pureeing.
- Make food softer, e.g. mash your food or use a slow cooker to keep food moist.
- Snack on soft foods between meals, such as avocado, yoghurt, ice‑cream, diced tinned fruit and 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, or if you have pain or discomfort when swallowing.
- Think about adding nutritional supplement drinks to your diet to help maintain your strength. Examples include Sustagen, Resource and Ensure.
Prof David Watson, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Oesophago-gastric Surgery Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, and Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Flinders University, SA; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gastrointestinal Cancers, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Christine Froude, Consumer; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Interventional Endoscopist and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Grant Wilson, Consumer; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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