Nasopharyngeal cancer and diet
This page is about nasopharyngeal cancer and how it may affect your eating and drinking. You can find the following information
Nasopharyngeal cancer and diet
It can be quite difficult to cope with the changes in eating that may happen after nasopharyngeal cancer. But there is support available for you.
Difficulty swallowing or chewing
Radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer can make your throat very sore. You will almost certainly have difficulty swallowing for a while. You may also have difficulty chewing. And you may find a soft diet easier to manage. You may notice changes in the way your food tastes. There are tips on coping with taste changes and more about a soft diet in the diet problems section.
If you have surgery to remove the tumour from your nasopharynx you are most likely to have a feeding tube that goes directly through the skin of your tummy into your stomach (PEG tube).
Radiotherapy to your head and neck can cause a dry mouth. Your doctor can prescribe artificial moisteners for your mouth or stimulants for your salivary glands. You may find it helps to keep taking small sips of water to moisten your mouth.
After your treatment, you need to build yourself up again. Remember to buy whole milk and full fat versions of yoghurts for example. Eating little and often is easiest to cope with. You could ask your doctor to prescribe you some liquid food. These drinks have all the vitamins, protein and carbohydrate that you need for a balanced diet. You can sip these through the day as well as eating meals. A dietician will help you plan a suitable diet and give advice on supplements.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with nasopharyngeal cancer section.
Radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer can make your throat very sore. You will almost certainly have difficulty swallowing for a while. This can be very hard to cope with and may get you down. If your mouth and throat are very sore from radiotherapy, your doctor will give you strong painkillers. Taking these regularly as prescribed can help to control the pain and help you to feel better.
If you have surgery, eating and swallowing will be difficult until you recover and any swelling has gone down. If you have surgery to remove the tumour from your nasopharynx you’re most likely to have a gastrostomy (PEG) tube. This goes directly through the skin of your tummy into your stomach.
Remember – even if you are not eating, it is very important to keep your mouth and teeth clean. This will help to stop infection developing and help you to feel better.
Radiotherapy and some chemotherapy drugs may also affect your taste buds. You may notice changes in the way your food tastes. Some people say their food has a metallic, bitter or salty taste. Others complain that all foods taste the same. We have more information about loss of taste and tips on how to cope with taste changes in the tips for diet problems section.
People have often lost quite a bit of weight by the time they are diagnosed with some types of cancer. You may have had pain when you swallow for a time, which has put you off eating. After your treatment, you need to build yourself up again. This can be difficult if you are still off your food. There are some tips for adding hidden calories in the diet problems section.
You (or the person who usually provides your meals) may need to think about your diet. We are all so used to choosing low fat products these days that it can be difficult to stop when you are trying to put on weight. Remember to buy whole milk and full fat versions of yoghurts for example.
If you are really off your food, eating little and often is easier to cope with than a huge plateful. Ask your doctor to prescribe you some nutrition drinks. If you are trying to put weight on, you can sip these through the day as well as eating meals. These drinks have all the vitamins, protein and carbohydrate that you need for a balanced diet. They come in many flavours, both savoury and sweet. Available brands include Ensure, Fresubin, Fortisip, Complan and Build Up. You can also get powdered protein or carbohydrate supplements to sprinkle on foods and drinks. A dietician can help you plan a suitable diet and give advice on supplements. We have detailed information about liquid diet supplements in the weight loss section.
Radiotherapy to your head and neck can cause a dry mouth. You may hear your doctor or nurse call this xerostomia (pronounced zero-stow-mee-a). It may last for several months but some people find the dryness is permanent. It can make eating and talking very uncomfortable.
If you have trouble with a dry mouth, your doctor can prescribe artificial moisteners for your mouth, or stimulants for your salivary glands. You may find it helps to carry a bottle of water with you all the time, so you can keep taking small sips to moisten your mouth.
Keeping your mouth moist is not just to make you more comfortable. You are more likely to get an infection, or tooth decay if your mouth is dry. So you will need to keep an eye on this and have regular check ups with your dentist.
There is some evidence that acupuncture may help with a dry mouth caused by radiotherapy, but we need more research before we can be sure.
We have more information about treating a dry mouth.
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