If you’re having problems chewing or swallowing

Chemotherapy, and radiotherapy treatments for a head or neck cancer, can affect the cells in the lining of the throat, which can make it painful to chew or swallow. An infection in your mouth and throat can also make chewing and swallowing uncomfortable. A common mouth infection is thrush (candidiasis). It shows as white spots on your mouth and tongue, or your tongue and mouth lining become red and swollen. Thrush is treated with anti-fungal tablets. Some people are prescribed these tablets to prevent thrush.

Let your doctor or dietitian know if you’re having any difficulties. If you find that drinks make you cough, you should tell your doctor or specialist nurse as soon as possible.

  • You may find that taking painkillers before mealtimes can help you chew and swallow more easily. Your doctor or nurse can advise you about this.
  • Keep eating your favourite foods where possible, but make changes to soften them. For example, cover foods in interesting sauces and gravies; finely chop meat and vegetables then casserole or stew them; and cut the crusts off bread for softer sandwiches. If you have a blender, you could liquidise cooked foods.
  • There are several balanced food supplements that you may find helpful, for example Build up® or Complan® drinks. You can buy these in your chemist or supermarket. Your doctor may give you a prescription for some of them.