Some of these changes are temporary and are caused by swelling in the mouth or throat immediately after treatment. As the swelling goes down, eating and drinking gradually improve. Although for some people, it may never be quite the same as before.
Some people find that after their treatment, they take longer to eat and can only manage certain foods. These changes may make you feel embarrassed and frustrated, and you may find it hard to eat with others.
It’s important to talk with your family and friends about how you’re feeling so that they can help. You can also talk to your specialist nurse. They will understand what you’re going through and may be able to offer help or put you in touch with other people who have experienced similar difficulties.
Your speech and language therapist and dietitian will help you learn to cope with any changes. They will assess your eating and swallowing at every stage and advise you on what you can do.
Swallowing test (videofluoroscopy)
If you’re having swallowing difficulties, you may be asked to have a special x-ray test of your swallowing called a videofluoroscopy. It gives a moving picture of what is happening in your mouth and throat when you swallow. It can show if anything gets stuck in your throat or if any food or drink goes down the wrong way. This helps the speech and language therapist see the best ways to make swallowing safer and easier for you.
This test is carried out in the radiotherapy department by a radiologist and the speech therapist. You will be asked to swallow different types of food, from liquid to semi-solid (like yoghurt) and solid (like a biscuit). A special substance is added to the food to make it show up on the x-ray. You may also be asked to try different techniques to see if they help when you swallow. The test takes about 30 minutes and is painless. The x-rays will be recorded on video or DVD.
The speech therapist will meet with you to discuss the results of the test. You’ll also be given advice on the type of food to eat – for example, drinks can be thickened to allow them to be swallowed safely.
If the results of the videofluoroscopy show that food or liquid is getting into the lungs, you may need to be fed directly into the stomach through a tube. Usually, this is only temporary until your swallowing recovers with the help of exercises and techniques taught by the speech and language therapist. Sometimes the feeding tube will be permanent.