Diet after treatment for oesophageal cancer

It can take a few months to recover after you have had surgery, radiotherapy, or had a tube fitted in your oesophagus. It can take a few months more to adjust to the changes in your digestive system. You will have a soft diet for a few weeks until your oesophagus heals. As you start to eat solid foods, gradually you will become more used to a normal diet again. Though you may have indigestion, diarrhoea, feel full quickly, or may have swallowing problems. Your dietitian and speech and language therapist can help you with this.

Diet after treatment for oesophageal cancer

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

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 will usually start with a soft diet while you are still in hospital. You will normally be advised to keep to this diet for a few weeks. This will help keep your oesophagus open as it heals.

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 a normal diet again.

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

A photo of Conor

Video: Eating problems and cancer

Dietitian Debbie Provan describes the eating problems that can be caused by cancer and its treatment, and gives tips for managing them. Conor, who had Ewing Sarcoma, talks about the eating problems he had.

Video: Eating problems and cancer

Dietitian Debbie Provan describes the eating problems that can be caused by cancer and its treatment, and gives tips for managing them. Conor, who had Ewing Sarcoma, talks about the eating problems he had.


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.
  • Do not lie completely flat.
  • Use extra pillows or raise the head of your bed.


Feeling full quickly

If you have had part of your stomach removed, you will feel full very quickly. This is because your stomach is smaller. Try to:

  • eat smaller meals more often, rather than large ones
  • chew food well and eat slowly.


Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is fairly common after any operation for oesophageal cancer. It might help to:

  • cut out certain foods that are high in fibre, such as fruit, vegetables, and cereals
  • have less milk in your diet.


Changes after radiotherapy or stenting

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

  • Keep to 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.
  • If you use any powdered food supplement, such as Complan®, make sure it is very thoroughly mixed.
  • Eat slowly and have plenty to drink during and after meals.


Coping with changes

These changes may make you feel embarrassed and frustrated. You may find it hard to eat with others. Your speech and language therapist and dietitian can help you learn to cope with any changes.

Try talking with your family and friends about how you are feeling. You can also talk to your specialist nurse. They can understand what you are going through. They may be able to help or put you in touch with other people who have experienced similar difficulties.

The Oesophageal Patients Association can give you recipes and ideas to make your meals more interesting.

We have information on eating problems and the building-up diet, which you may find helpful. We also have recipes tailored specifically for people with cancer.

If you have difficulties with swallowing again after treatment, it does not necessarily mean that the cancer is coming back. This can be caused by the treatment itself. Contact your hospital doctor or nurse for advice.

I went to see a dietitian. They showed me how to get good calories into a small amount of food. I finally started putting on weight and had more energy.

Lizzy

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Lifestyle and well-being

Looking after yourself after treatment and making positive lifestyle changes can help you recover more rapidly.