Swallowing after chest radiotherapy | Cancer Research UK
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Swallowing after chest radiotherapy

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Find out about how to cope with difficulty swallowing during and after radiotherapy to your chest. There is information about


Swallowing problems during chest radiotherapy

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.


Foods and drinks that can help

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
  • Complan
  • Fortisip

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.


Medicines that can help

Your doctor or nurse can prescribe medicines to reduce the soreness, including

  • Painkillers
  • Liquid medicines
  • Gargles with aspirin

You could take painkillers about half an hour before meals to make eating less uncomfortable.


Where to get more information

You can contact the Oesophageal Patients Association who offer free leaflets and support.

On this website find out about

Side effects of radiotherapy

Coping with diet problems

Coping with cancer books and resources

A soft diet

High calorie drinks

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Share experiences on our online forum – Cancer Chat

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Updated: 22 March 2016