Swallowing after chest radiotherapy
Find out about how to cope with difficulty swallowing during and after radiotherapy to your chest. There is information about
Radiotherapy treatment for cancer in the chest might cause swelling and soreness in the throat. During and after radiotherapy to this area, your chest may feel tight for a while. This side effect usually starts with a feeling of a lump in the throat when you swallow. Then it may get difficult to swallow solid foods.
If you have a short course of treatment for advanced cancer, you might not have any problems. Some advanced cancers are treated with a single treatment of radiotherapy. This type of treatment is designed to relieve symptoms and it probably won't make it hard to swallow.
If you are having a longer course of radiotherapy you might find that you have a sore throat or difficulty swallowing after a few days of treatment. The problem is likely to increase and may be at its worst about 10 days to 2 weeks after the radiotherapy has ended. After this time it starts to get better. But if you are having chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy, the soreness and difficulty swallowing might be worse and last longer.
You can ask to see a dietitian at the radiotherapy clinic if you are having problems with eating and drinking.
A soft, plain diet may help. Try different foods to find out which are easiest to swallow. Avoid foods that may irritate your throat. This includes
- Dry foods
- Highly spiced foods
- Very hot foods or drinks
- Alcohol, particularly spirits
You may need high calorie drinks to boost your calorie intake, such as
- Build Up
Other high calorie food supplements are available on prescription. Ask your specialist nurse or dietitian to advise you. The soreness usually gets better within a few weeks of your treatment finishing, but this depends on how much treatment you've had.
Your doctor or nurse can prescribe medicines to reduce the soreness, including
- Liquid medicines
- Gargles with aspirin
You could take painkillers about half an hour before meals to make eating less uncomfortable.
You can contact the Oesophageal Patients Association who offer free leaflets and support.
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