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Diet after laryngeal cancer

After treatment for laryngeal cancer, you might have difficulty swallowing, loss of taste or weight loss. See how you can make the most of your diet.

Difficulty swallowing

Treatment for laryngeal cancer can make your throat very sore. You will almost certainly have difficulty swallowing for a while.

After radiotherapy 

Radiotherapy can make your throat very sore, especially if you had a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy). 

Your doctor gives you strong painkillers. You can also have a tube put into your nose for liquid feeds so that you don't have to swallow food.

When you can eat normally again, you may need to avoid certain foods such as acidic fruit juices or spicy foods, as they may sting your throat.

A dry mouth after radiotherapy can also make it difficult to swallow food. It helps if you carry a bottle of water or a small water spray to keep your mouth moist.

You might find a soft diet easier to manage if you have a painful throat. There are plenty of foods you can eat and ways to adapt your favourite meals.

After surgery

After surgery, you have a feeding tube going into your stomach to allow your throat to heal. You have liquid feeds through this tube until you are able to eat and drink again.

The tube might go up your nose and into your stomach (a nasogastric tube) or it might go through your stoma and into the hole that you will later use for your speaking valve. Or you might have a tube going through your tummy (abdominal wall) into your stomach. This is called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrotomy (PEG tube).

Even if you are not eating, it's important to keep your mouth and teeth clean. This helps to stop infection developing and makes you feel more comfortable.

Loss of taste

After having a laryngectomy, your sense of smell is likely to be worse than it was. And this can reduce your sense of taste. Many of us don't realise, but the smell of food contributes a lot to how it tastes.

Changing your diet

After your surgery, you might find you need to eat more strongly flavoured foods.

Gravies and bottled sauces can help to add flavour to a meal. You might find you prefer stronger versions of your favourite foods. For example, smoked ham, bacon or stronger cheese. You can also try adding garlic, lemon juice, herbs and spices to your food.

Marinating (soaking) meat and fish before cooking also helps. You can make a marinade with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and whichever herbs or spices you fancy. Add some wine or lemon juice if you like. Leave the meat or fish soaking overnight, or for as long as you can. Even 10 minutes makes a difference.

Or you could use a dry marinade (sometimes called a rub). To make this, simply mix up some spices and herbs and put them onto the uncooked meat or fish with clean hands.

Some people find that their sense of taste and smell are more acute after treatment but this is not common. In this case you may need to change your diet to find blander foods that you enjoy eating.

Weight loss

People have often lost quite a bit of weight by the time they are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. You might also have had pain swallowing for a time, which can put you off eating.

After your treatment, you need to build yourself up again. But this can be difficult if you don't have much appetite. If you are really off food, it can be easier to cope with eating little and often than to have a big plate of food.

Supplement drinks

Ask your doctor to prescribe you some supplement drinks. These drinks have all the vitamins, protein and carbohydrate that you need for a balanced diet. If you’re trying to put on weight, you can sip them through the day as well as eating your meals.

Supplement drinks come in many flavours, both savoury and sweet. Brands available include Ensure, Fresubin, Complan and Build Up. You can also get powdered protein or carbohydrate supplements to sprinkle on foods and drinks.

A dietician can to help you plan a suitable diet and advise on supplements.

Last reviewed: 
30 Jul 2015
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures

    L. Dougherty and S. Lister, 9th edition, 2015

  • Principles and Practice of head and neck surgery and oncology

    Montgomery and other. 2nd edition, 2009

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