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Eating and drinking

Nasal and paranasal sinus cancer and its treatment can affect the way you eat and drink. But support is available and there are things you can do to help you cope.

Difficulty swallowing

Radiotherapy to the nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses and neck can make your mouth and throat very sore. You might have difficulty swallowing for a while. Your doctor will give you strong painkillers to help you to swallow more easily.

Surgery involving your jaw and mouth will make eating and swallowing difficult until you recover. Swelling after surgery may also cause problems.

After large operations, you might have a tube into your stomach for liquid feeds. This will usually be a nasogastric tube (NG tube). Or you may need to have a gastrostomy (PEG) tube put directly into your stomach.

Even if you are not eating, it is important to keep your mouth and teeth clean. This will help to prevent infection and help you to feel better.

You may find a soft diet easier to manage if you have a painful throat.

Dry mouth

Radiotherapy to your head and neck can cause a dry mouth. This is also called xerostomia (pronounced zero-stow-mee-a).

This may last for several months but some people find that 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 spit (saliva) for your mouth or medications that stimulate your salivary glands.

You may find it helpful to carry a bottle of water with you all the time so you can take 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 keep an eye on this and have regular check ups with your dentist.

There is some evidence to suggest that treatment with acupuncture may help with a dry mouth after radiotherapy to the head and neck area. But we need more research.

Loss of taste

Radiotherapy and some chemotherapy drugs may also affect your taste buds. Some people say their food has a metallic, bitter or salty taste. Others complain that all foods taste the same.

If you have surgery or radiotherapy to your nose, your sense of smell is likely to be affected. In turn, this will affect your sense of taste.

Your appetite might also be affected because the scent of food contributes a great deal to our appetite and how food tastes.

Weight loss

Sometimes people have lost weight by the time they are diagnosed with cancer. This might happen when you have had pain with swallowing which has put you off eating.

After your treatment, you need to build yourself up again. But this might not be easy if you’re still off your food.

You may need to make changes to your diet. If you have been eating low fat products in the past, you should opt for whole milk and full fat versions after treatment. This will give you extra calories and help you to put on weight.

If you struggle with a loss of appetite, eating little and often is easier to cope with than a huge plate of food.

Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian who can prescribe some nutritional supplements. These drinks have all the vitamins, protein and carbohydrate that you need for a balanced diet. If you are trying to put on weight, you can sip these throughout the day in between meals. The drinks come in many flavours, both savoury and sweet. Available brands include Ensure, Fresubin or Complan.

You can also get powdered protein or carbohydrate supplements to sprinkle on foods and drinks. A dietician can also help you plan a suitable diet.

Difficulty chewing

If you’ve had surgery to your sinuses or jaw bone (maxillectomy), you may not be able to open your mouth easily. This can make it difficult and painful to chew.

This will probably be temporary until the tissues have healed up. You will gradually start to chew properly again. Until then you will need to eat a soft diet, probably for a few weeks or longer.

In some cases, you may need to have reconstructive surgery or a temporary replacement part (prosthesis) to put inside your mouth. This helps to bring back normal mouth movement.

Last reviewed: 
23 Nov 2020
Next review due: 
23 Nov 2023
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