Dysphagia, which is the medical term for swallowing problems, is common in certain types of cancers. It can also be a side effect of some cancer treatments, meaning you should be aware of the common signs and how to deal with dysphagia. This article looks at dysphagia and cancer in more detail, as well as how you can deal with it or support a loved one.
Which Cancers Cause Dysphagia?
Some types of cancer are more likely to cause dysphagia, especially if the cancer is causing growths or tumors around your throat or voice box. The most common cancers that cause swallowing difficulties include:
- Voice box, also known as your larynx
- Oral cancer, such as cancer of the mouth or tongue
- Throat, also known as your pharynx
- Salivary glands
- Food pipe, also known as your esophagus
If you have any of these cancers, you are more likely to develop problems with eating and swallowing, which is called dysphagia.
The Reasons for Dysphagia
There are many reasons that cancer can cause dysphagia, one of the most common reasons being that cancer has caused a tumor or lump in your throat. This swelling can make it much more difficult to swallow or could cause food and drink to go down the wrong way, into your respiratory tract instead of your stomach. This is known as aspiration and is something you should be aware of, as it could cause other health issues.
Surgery on your neck or head area can trigger swelling which can also cause dysphagia, as can having a tube placed into your food pipe, having your voice box removed (to get rid of cancer), or as a side effect of cancer treatment. There are also other side effects of cancer treatment to be aware of.
Dealing with Dysphagia
Many people with dysphagia and cancer are put on a soft diet, which involves eating soft foods like soup or pre-made liquids that contain the minerals and vitamins you need. This is difficult to come to terms with if you love food and you need to be prepared for the emotional impacts this can have on your life. It makes it harder to eat around people and you can no longer enjoy meals out with family or friends. Dysphagia can take away the pleasure of eating, making it difficult to eat or drink anything.
Sometimes, a feeding tube can be placed down your nose and into your stomach, to give you the nutrition you need during your cancer treatment. There are ways to make it easier to consume food and drink, such as using a thickener. This SimplyThick thickener from Simply Thick allows people with dysphagia to swallow liquids with ease, so you can still enjoy your favorite beverages.
Although you cannot enjoy the same diet, this does not mean you cannot enjoy the social side of meals out and the company of your loved ones. If you are struggling with your mental health and dysphagia, speak to a medical professional.