Diet for people with oesophageal cancer (cancer of the gullet)
While you are waiting for treatment it is important to eat well, using food supplements if necessary.
You should be able to see a hospital dietitian for advice at the time of diagnosis and after surgery. If you’re unable to swallow at all, you should let the hospital know immediately.
After surgery you can start to eat as soon as your doctor says you can - this can be up to a week after your operation. You’ll usually start with a soft diet while you’re still in hospital, and you’ll often be advised to remain on this for a few weeks. This will help keep the passage open as it heals.
Gradually you’ll be able to start eating solid foods again, as long as there are no large lumps of food and you chew the food well. You may worry about eating solid foods at first, but this will lessen as you become more used to a normal diet again. Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you further advice about this.
Some people may have an allergic reaction to the lactose contained in milk. This can cause nausea or diarrhoea. Try avoiding milk for a while, or use low-lactose skimmed milk products or soya milk. This reaction is usually temporary and the symptoms should get better in a few months.
You may find you have indigestion. This is because the position of the stomach is now higher than it was.
If you’ve had part of your stomach removed, you’ll find that you feel full very quickly because your stomach will be smaller. To help prevent these problems, eat smaller meals more often, rather than large ones. It can also help to chew food well and eat slowly. Bouts of diarrhoea are fairly common after any operation for cancer of the oesophagus. You may occasionally need to cut out some foods, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals. Reducing the amount of milk you drink (or eat in food) can also help you deal with this problem.
If you’ve had radiotherapy, or a tube fitted in your oesophagus, you’ll probably need a softer diet. Avoid foods that may block the tube or that you may find difficult to swallow, such as raw fruit and vegetables, tough meat or crusty bread. Complan® and any powdered food supplement must be very thoroughly mixed.
It’s also a good idea to eat slowly and to have plenty to drink during and after meals.
The Oesophageal Patients Association can give you recipes and ideas to make your meals more interesting.
If you begin to have difficulty swallowing again, it may be that your tube has become blocked. Contact your hospital doctor or nurse for advice.
Our diet section includes some recipe ideas which may also be helpful.