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Eating

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.

There will be a dietitian in the team looking after you. They can help you cope with eating problems and suggest ways of dealing with diet difficulties. 

Eating when swallowing is difficult

It helps to eat soft, moist foods.

Eating slowly and chewing your food well, can also help. And for some, it can be helpful to have a drink during or after eating. Eating smaller amounts more often can be easier than having large amounts. Try to make the most of the times during the day that you feel able to eat.  

Making a few changes to what you’re eating, can help you to eat a variety of different foods.

Soft diet suggestions

A soft diet can help you eat more comfortably. Try scrambled egg, soups and mashed potato. 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 or milkshakes in a blender
  • try tinned fruit and add custard or cream
  • have ice cream, yoghurts and mousse

Foods that can be difficult to eat

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 adding calories to everyday foods. You can:

  • have soft cereal for breakfast – add honey or sugar and cream or whole milk
  • make instant soups or gravies with milk instead of water
  • mix mashed potato with butter or grated cheese or cream
  • make drinks with all milk like coffee or hot chocolate
  • drink liquid food supplements such as Complan and Meritene - sip them throughout the day
  • make ice lollies or icecreams out of smoothies or liquid food supplements

Try to increase your protein intake

You can do this by:

  • adding a couple of teaspoons of dried milk powder to each pint of milk to use like ordinary milk for drinking and cooking
  • aiming to have some soft meat, Quorn, tofu, fish, beans or eggs at least twice a day

Liquid food supplements can be helpful if you are finding this difficult . Ask your dietitian for advice on which ones are best – some are available on prescription.

Feeding tubes

You may need a feeding tube down your nose or put into your small bowel if you can’t eat and drink enough. You can go home with the feeding tube in place. Your team will teach you or your carer how to use the tube once you're at home.

Eating after surgery

Your eating may return to normal after a few months. But this can take time and there may still be differences. For some people, it takes up to 2 years.

It can help to eat smaller meals about 6 to 8 times a day if you've had surgery to remove your oesophagus and part of your stomach. You’ll also need to eat slowly and chew food well or have a soft diet. Some people find certain foods uncomfortable to eat. You can choose not to eat these foods.

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
    • difficulty swallowing
    • acid from your stomach coming back up (reflux) into the oesophagus when you lie flat
    • feeling full after eating small amounts
    • low levels of minerals and vitamins which might make you tired

    Eating after radiotherapy

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

    Eating a soft diet helps, as well as taking painkillers before you eat.

    Get help

    Dietitians can help you cope with eating problems and suggest ways of dealing with diet difficulties. There will be a dietician in your hospital team. If you haven't seen them, ask your doctor or nurse to refer you.

    The dietician can support you with any diet problems from diagnosis, through treatment and afterwards.

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

    Try and maintain your weight during treatment. This is a good sign that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs. It is important to get help even before you have any problems.

    Information and help