Weight loss after head and neck radiotherapy
Find out how to cope when radiotherapy to your head or neck makes you lose weight. There is information about
Radiotherapy to your head and neck area can make you lose weight because you may have
- A sore or dry mouth
- A poor appetite
- Taste changes due to treatment
- Difficulty swallowing due to soreness or swelling in your throat
These effects might be temporary and gradually go back to normal after a few months when the treatment ends. But for some people the effects may be permanent. There are things you can do to help keep your weight up though.
It's important to eat and drink as well as you can but don't worry too much if you can't eat a lot during the treatment period. Your doctor, specialist nurse or dietitian can prescribe nutritional supplements, such as high calorie drinks, to keep up your calories until your mouth feels better. Remember to drink plenty of other fluids too.
Ask the radiotherapy staff or the hospital dietitian what you should eat and drink to stay as healthy as possible. Try not to drink alcohol (especially spirits) or smoke because this can make your mouth and throat very sore.
Talk to your radiographers or the nursing staff if you are having problems eating or drinking. They might refer you to a dietitian for advice.
If your throat is very sore and eating and drinking is painful, you may need to have strong painkillers and one of the following
- Liquid feed through a drip into a vein or a tube down your nose to your stomach
- A feeding tube put into your stomach through the skin and muscle of the abdomen (called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy – PEG tube)
Your radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) might stop your treatment for a while to allow you to recover but this is rare.
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Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
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