When you’re fighting cancer, you want your body to be as strong and healthy as possible, so good nutrition is vital. The problem is, some cancer patients, such as those with head and neck cancer, can find eating a challenge. Some challenges are caused by the cancer itself, while others are a result of cancer treatments. Here are some tips from the Cancer Nutrition Services team at The Christ Hospital Health Network to help patients overcome challenges when eating becomes a chore:
Overcoming dry mouth
Dry mouth is common side effect from cancer surgery, medications and chemo or radiation to the head and neck area. The natural moisture and saliva in the mouth is very protective. Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential as a dry mouth is an ideal environment for sores, bacterial growth, and infection.
Your provider may recommend specific mouthwashes to manage dry mouth. When eating, it is helpful to add moisture to your food through the use of dips, sauces, or gravies. Try taking sips of water between bites and keep your water bottle with your during the day. Sucking on frozen fruits and sugar-free popsicles may also be helpful in between meals. At night, consider keeping a cool-mist humidifier near the bed to add moisture in the air.
Enjoy what you’re eating
A lack of taste is another side effect which has significant effects on a person’s ability to eat enough. Often, foods may taste bland, have a bitter or metallic taste, or even taste rancid. Maintaining good oral hygiene, as described above, and rinsing the mouth often to stay clean and moist can help enhance your food’s flavor. Nutritionists also recommend The FASS strategy to optimize flavor in foods which do not taste right. FASS stands for:
Try adding a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a drop of lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt, or a little maple syrup to foods to add flavor. In addition, the temperature of foods might make a difference. Foods and drinks at warmer temperatures might provide more flavor than those at room or cooler temperatures.
Choose foods that are easier to eat
If your mouth feels especially sore or if it is painful to eat, you may want to choose foods that are less difficult to chew and swallow. Softer foods with less crunch and those cut into or served in small pieces are ideal. Avoiding irritating foods such as spicy, acidic foods, extreme temperatures, and alcohol is also recommended. Consider discussing medical management with your provider if pain is limiting your ability to get in enough food during the day.
There is no exact diet for patients with head and neck cancer, but there are certainly plenty of issues which can alter the choices available or realistic for them. Being cognizant of food’s texture, temperature, and maintaining good oral care is essential for optimal nutrition intake. Working with your oncology dietitian can help you better understand food choices to maintain a healthy diet and living with head and neck cancer.
The team at The Christ Hospital Health Network is committed to supporting cancer patients through every step of their journey through treatment and survivorship. Click here to read more about the full range of support services available to our patients, including Nutrition Services.