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Eating

Get tips to help you eat when it’s hard to swallow, eating after treatment and build yourself up.

Oesophageal cancer can cause problems with swallowing and make it hard to eat well. It’s important to eat and drink enough calories and protein to maintain your weight and strength.

Eating when swallowing is difficult

You will need to eat soft foods.

Make sure that you eat slowly and avoid eating late in the day. Have plenty to drink during and after meals to soften your food and prevent blockages. Eating smaller amounts more often is easier than having large amounts.

You will find that you can eat most of your favourite foods with a few changes.

Soft diet suggestions

A soft diet can help you eat more comfortably. Try scrambled egg, soups and well cooked pasta. You can also

  • use sauces and gravies to moisten food and make it easier to swallow
  • soften meat and vegetables with long, slow cooking
  • finely chop meat and vegetables in a food processor before or after cooking
  • blend or process meat or vegetable casseroles or curries to make soups
  • make fruit smoothies in a blender
  • try tinned fruit and add custard or cream
  • have ice cream, yoghurts and mousse

Foods to avoid

Avoid foods that are hard to swallow and might stick in your throat, like

  • raw fruit and vegetables
  • tough meat
  • soft, doughy bread

You can use a blender to process solid foods.

How to build yourself up

You can help to maintain your weight by boosting calories in everyday foods. You can

  • have porridge for breakfast – add syrup or sugar and cream
  • make instant soups or gravies with milk instead of water
  • mix mashed potato with an egg or grated cheese or cream
  • make instant coffee with all milk
  • drink liquid food supplements such as Ensure plus and Fresubin and sip them throughout the day
  • make ice lollies out of smoothies or liquid food supplements

Have extra protein

Increase the amount of protein you have by

  • adding a couple of teaspoons of dried milk powder to each pint of milk to use like ordinary milk for drinking and cooking
  • adding protein powders and high energy powders to everyday foods

Ask your dietitian for advice on what powders or supplements to use – some are available on prescription.

Feeding tubes

You may need a feeding tube down your nose or into your small bowel if you can’t eat and drink enough.

Eating after surgery

You’ll usually be able to eat normally again in a few months. For some people it takes up to 2 years.

You’ll need to eat smaller meals about 6 to 8 times a day if your oesophagus and part of your stomach has been removed. You’ll also need to eat slowly and chew food well or have a soft diet.

This video tells you how to eat well after surgery for oesophageal cancer. It lasts for 3 minutes and 31 seconds.

    You may have these problems after surgery to remove your oesophagus

    • dumping syndrome (feeling faint and dizzy after eating)
    • diarrhoea
    • feeling or being sick
    • indigestion and stomach pains

    Eating after radiotherapy

    During radiotherapy and for a few weeks or months afterwards, you’ll find it hard to swallow. You will also have some soreness and pain when you swallow.

    Eating a soft diet helps and taking painkillers before you eat.

    Get help

    Dietitians can help you cope with eating problems and suggest ways of dealing with diet difficulties. Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you.

    Ask to see a dietitian to help you cope with any eating problems. They can support you with diet problems from diagnosis, through treatment and afterwards.

    Eating problems can be difficult to cope with. They can cause tension within relationships or families. Events and eating out with friends can be much harder when you have a problem swallowing. Talking to your dietitian or a counsellor can help.

    Regaining weight can be more difficult than maintaining it. It is important to get help as soon as you start to have problems.

    Last reviewed: 
    05 May 2016
    • Allum W.H., et al, Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. Gut. 2011 Nov;60(11):1449-72.

    • Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), Management of oesophageal and gastric cancer, June 2006

    • Shaw, C. (Ed) Nutrition and Cancer Wiley-Blackwell,2011

    Information and help

    About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​