Advice for Cancer Patients with Difficulty Swallowing Foods

Bowl of cream of avocado soup

Cancer patients often have difficulty swallowing foods, a condition also known as dysphagia.

It’s a common symptom among people diagnosed with mesothelioma, particularly patients with pleural mesothelioma. The pressure on the lungs stemming from the illness affects breathing and swallowing.

Dry mouth from chemotherapy can also cause the condition and force the person to eat less.

Because eating is severely restricted, it can become a major complication for the patient, possibly leading to significant weight loss. Maintaining good nutrition is key to fighting cancer during and after treatment.

Excess weight loss weakens the body’s immune system and makes it difficult to handle the stress cancer brings — mentally and physically.

Foods That Ease Dysphagia

For many patients, dry, coarse or tough foods (meats, breads, crackers and chips) can be hard to swallow. Soft, pureed and liquid foods are a better option and can provide all the nutrition you need without medical intervention.

Foods that may be the easiest to consume:

  • Strained, creamy soups
  • Pureed meats that are completely smooth
  • Nutritional shakes such as Boost, Ensure or homemade smoothies
  • Juices and other beverages such as milk, tea, coffee or water
  • Popsicles
  • Pudding
  • Flavored gelatin
  • Ice cream, sherbet and yogurt without fruit
  • Eggs scrambled with milk and butter or custard if the egg texture is too much
  • Cottage cheese

If you are experiencing weight loss, add oils, butter, full cream, whole milk and high-calorie nutritional shakes to increase caloric intake and
prevent further weight loss.

Other tips to ease food intake:

  • Sitting upright
  • Eating foods that are cold or at room temperature if your mouth and throat are particularly dry or sore
  • Eating small meals every three hours
  • Using straws for thinner liquids to help get foods down
  • Meeting with a speech therapist, dietitian or both for tips and help

Suggested Menu

Here is an example of a menu suitable for anyone having trouble swallowing.

Breakfast

1 cup 100 percent pure fruit juice

½ cup hot cereal with butter and brown sugar

1 cup reduced-fat milk (2 percent)

½ cup coffee

Snack

1 bottle nutritional shake using Boost Plus (360 calories, 14 grams of protein)

Lunch

1 cup cream soup, strained

½ cup 100 percent pure vegetable juice

6 oz. vanilla or lemon low-fat yogurt

1 cup hot tea

Snack

1 shake (Blend bottle of nutritional shake and medium ripe banana and a few ice cubes)

Dinner

1 cup cream soup, strained

1 cup applesauce

½ vanilla ice cream

1 cup hot tea with sugar and lemon

Nutritional Breakdown

Calories: 2,025

Fat: 77 grams

Carbohydrate: 285 grams

Protein: 57 grams

Fiber: 19 grams

For those having trouble with very thin liquids, such as juice, water or teas, try using a thickener such as gelatin, tapioca, baby rice cereal or
commercial thickeners.

Contact your physician or dietitian for more information or ideas on how to maintain good nutrition.

  1. MedlinePlus. (2014, October 28). Diet – Full Liquid. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000206.htm

Tejal Parekh is a registered and licensed dietitian in Florida with a master’s in nutrition and dietetics from Georgia State University. She realized her passion more than 10 years ago when she started working with cancer patients. Tejal also is one of the first dietitians in Florida to be board-certified as a specialist in oncology nutrition.

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