Diet and nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer can affect your eating. You might have difficulties with swallowing, taste changes, weight loss and a dry mouth. There are things you can do to help you cope with these problems. 

Difficulty swallowing


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.

Your doctor gives you strong painkillers if your mouth and throat are very sore from radiotherapy. Taking these regularly as prescribed can help to control the pain and make you feel better.

After surgery

Eating and swallowing is difficult after having surgery. This starts to get better when you recover and the swelling has gone down.

You are likely to have a gastrostomy (PEG) tube if you have surgery to remove the tumour from your nasopharynx. This tube goes directly through the skin into your stomach.


Even if you are not eating, it is very important to keep your mouth and teeth clean. This helps to stop infection developing. It also helps you to feel better.

Soft diet

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

Changes in taste

Radiotherapy and some chemotherapy drugs can affect your taste buds. This means you might 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.

Weight loss

People have often lost quite a bit of weight by the time they are diagnosed with some types of cancer. You might 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.

You (or the person who usually provides your meals) might 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 food such as yoghurts.

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. You can sip these through the day as well as eating meals.

A dry mouth

Radiotherapy to your head and neck can cause a dry mouth. You might hear your doctor or nurse call this xerostomia (pronounced zero-stow-mee-a). It can make eating and talking very uncomfortable. This can last for several months, but some people find the dryness is permanent.

Your doctor can prescribe artificial moisteners for your mouth, or stimulants for your salivary glands. You might 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. This should make you more comfortable.

You are also more likely to get an infection or tooth decay if your mouth is dry. So you need to keep an eye on this and have regular check ups with your dentist.

There is some evidence that acupuncture might help with a dry mouth caused by radiotherapy. But we need more research before we can be sure.

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.
Last reviewed: 
25 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
25 Feb 2024
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