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Diet after cancer of the larynx

Men and women discussing laryngeal cancer

This page tells you about eating and drinking after cancer of the larynx. There is information about

 

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Diet after cancer of the larynx

Cancer of the larynx can affect how you eat and drink.

Difficulty swallowing

Radiotherapy can make your throat very sore and you will almost certainly have difficulty swallowing for a while. Surgery to your throat will also make swallowing difficult until you recover. You may find a soft diet easier to manage if you have a painful throat. There is information about soft diet in our coping physically section.

Loss of taste

If you have a laryngectomy, your sense of smell is likely to be poorer than it was. In turn, this may reduce your sense of taste. You may find that you need to eat more strongly flavoured foods. Gravies and bottled sauces can help to add flavour to a meal. Or try adding garlic, lemon juice, herbs and spices.

Weight loss

People have often lost quite a bit of weight by the time they are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. After your treatment, you need to build yourself up again. You (or whoever usually provides your meals) may need to re think your diet. If you are really off your food, eating little and often is easier to cope with than a huge plate of food. Ask your doctor to prescribe some supplementary drinks that can sip through the day as well as eating meals.

 

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Difficulty swallowing

Radiotherapy can make your throat very sore and you will almost certainly have difficulty swallowing for a while. Especially if you had  a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Surgery to your throat will also make swallowing difficult until you recover.

If your throat is very sore from radiotherapy, your doctor will give 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. 

After surgery, you will have a tube going into your stomach to allow the laryngeal area to heal. You will have liquid feeds through the tube until you are able to eat and drink again. This will either be a nasogastric tube which goes up your nose and into your stomach or through your stoma and into the hole that you will later use for your speaking valve. Or you may have a tube going through your tummy (abdominal wall) into your stomach – this is called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrotomy (PEG tube).

Remember that even if you are not eating, it is very important to keep your mouth and teeth clean. This helps to stop infection developing and also helps you to feel more comfortable. A dry mouth after radiotherapy can make it difficult to swallow food. It can help to carry a bottle of water or a small water spray to keep your mouth moist.

You may find a soft diet easier to manage if you have a painful throat. There is information in the diet problems section about soft diet. This includes ideas about the foods you can eat and how to adapt your favourite meals.

 

Loss of taste

If you have a laryngectomy, your sense of smell is likely to be poorer than it was. In turn, this can reduce your sense of taste. Many of us don't realise, but the smell of food contributes a great deal to how it tastes.

After your surgery, you may 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 – smoked ham, bacon or stronger cheese.

Try adding garlic, lemon juice, herbs and spices. Marinating (soaking) meat and fish before cooking also helps. Make a marinade with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and whichever herbs or spices you fancy. Maybe 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. Mix up 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 may 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. There are some tips for adding hidden calories in our diet section

If you are really off your food, eating little and often is easier to cope with than a huge plate of food. 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 are trying to put weight on, you can sip these through the day as well as eating meals. The drinks come in many flavours, both savoury and sweet. Available brands include Ensure, Fresubin, Complan and Build Up. You can also get powdered protein or carbohydrate supplements to sprinkle on foods and drinks. A dietician will be able to help you plan a suitable diet and advise on supplements.

You can find detailed information in the diet problems section with tips for putting on weight.

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Updated: 30 July 2015