Head and neck cancers

Eating well

Head and neck cancers

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Eating a healthy diet is an important part of staying well during and after cancer treatment.

There are people who can advise you about your diet, and help if you have problems eating or drinking.

A healthy, balanced diet

By eating a healthy, balanced diet during your cancer treatment, you will be able to cope better and your body will recover faster.

A healthy, balanced diet is one that contains all of the nutrients that your body needs. These include protein, carbohydrates and fats.

You should also aim to drink plenty of water each day unless your doctor or nurse has told you that you are fluid-restricted.

Nutrition problems related to head and neck cancers

Having head and neck cancer can make it difficult to eat and drink.

Treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can cause a number of problems, including:

  • difficulty chewing
  • trouble swallowing
  • pain in your mouth and throat
  • changes to your saliva – it can be thick and rope like, or there may be less saliva causing your mouth to be dry and uncomfortable
  • changes the way food tastes and smells
  • nausea or vomiting
  • loss of appetite.

These problems can stop you eating and drinking enough. This can result in weight loss and malnutrition.

Managing nutrition with head and neck cancers

It is important to be seen by a dietitian before, during and after treatment. They will monitor your weight, give you advice about what to eat and drink, and recommend nutritional supplements.

Sometimes people having treatment for head and neck cancers need a feeding tube to make sure they are getting enough nutrients. These are usually only needed for a short time until swallowing has returned.

It is also important to be seen by a speech therapist who will check your swallowing and advise you on how to make swallowing easier.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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