It can take a few months to recover from treatment for oesophageal cancer. And it may take up to a year to adjust to the changes in your digestive system.

Changes to eating after an oesophagectomy

The main operation used to treat oesophageal cancer is called an oesophagectomy.

It can take a few months to recover from an oesophagectomy. It may take up to a year to adjust to the changes in your digestive system.

Changes in your diet after an oesophagectomy

You usually have a soft diet while you are still in hospital. You are normally advised to keep to this diet for a few weeks. This helps keep the oesophagus open as it heals. It also helps to eat small amounts more often.

Gradually, you will be able to start eating solid foods again. It will help if there are no large lumps of food. Try to chew everything well. You may worry about eating solid foods at first. This should get easier as you become more used to having a more normal diet again.

Your dietitian will talk to you about your diet and give you advice to help you recover from treatment. They can also help you maintain your weight. If you have any questions or worries after you have gone home, contact the dietitian or your specialist nurse for advice.

We have more information about managing changes in weight.

Indigestion

You may have indigestion. If you do, the following tips can help:

  • try to eat slowly
  • try not to lie down for about 30 to 60 minutes after eating
  • when you lie down, do not lie completely flat
  • use extra pillows or raise the head of your bed.

Feeling full quickly

You may feel full very quickly when eating. This is because your stomach is smaller. This can happen if you have had part of the stomach removed. It can also happen if the stomach has been reshaped to replace a part of the oesophagus that has been removed. Try to:

  • eat smaller meals more often, rather than large ones
  • chew food well
  • eat slowly
  • have drinks between meals rather than with a meal, so you do not feel full with fluids.

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is fairly common after any operation for oesophageal cancer. It should start to get better as you begin to eat more normally. If you have diarrhoea, it is important to make sure you are getting enough fluids. Try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids every day.

It can help to avoid:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • milk products
  • high-fat foods
  • high-fibre foods.

If the diarrhoea is severe or does not go away, talk to your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or dietitian.

Eating after radiotherapy or stenting

If you have had radiotherapy or a tube (stent) fitted in your oesophagus, these tips may help with eating:

  • keep to a softer diet
  • sit upright when you are eating to help move food down
  • if you have a stent, avoid foods that may block it, or that you may find difficult to swallow. This includes raw fruit and vegetables, tough meat and crusty bread. Your dietitian and specialist nurse can tell you what may be suitable in your situation
  • if you use any powdered food supplement such as Complan®, make sure it is thoroughly mixed
  • eat slowly and have sips of water between each mouthful to help wash food down.

How we can help

Macmillan Grants

If you have cancer, you may be able to get a Macmillan Grant to help with the extra costs of cancer. Find out who can apply and how to access our grants.

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