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Cancer of the Esophagus

  • Posted: 04/04/2013

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It's important for you to be well nourished before, during, and after cancer treatment. Being well nourished may help you feel better, have more energy, and get the most benefit from your treatment.

However, esophageal cancer and its treatment can make it hard to be well nourished, and it may be hard for you to not lose weight. For many reasons, you may not feel like eating. For example, you may have nausea or trouble swallowing, and the foods you used to like to eat could now cause discomfort.

The NCI booklet Eating Hints has lists of foods to help with certain eating problems, such as trouble swallowing.

If you're unable to eat, special treatments or other ways of getting nutrition may be needed. If the cancer in your esophagus makes it very hard to swallow food, your health care team may suggest that you have radiation therapy to shrink the tumor. Or, they may suggest that a plastic or metal mesh tube (stent) be put in your esophagus to keep it open. Another option is for you to receive nutrition through a feeding tube. Sometimes, intravenous nutrition is needed.

Nutrition After Surgery

If your stomach is removed during surgery for esophageal cancer, you may develop dumping syndrome. After meals, people with dumping syndrome may have cramps, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and dizziness.

If you have dumping syndrome, a registered dietitian can help you learn how to be well nourished without making your symptoms worse. Here are some tips for preventing or controlling the symptoms of dumping syndrome:

  • Try to eat at least 6 small meals each day.
  • Sit up during meals and for at least 30 minutes afterward.
  • Chew food very well.
  • Eat mostly solid meals, and drink liquids between meals.
  • Avoid very sweet foods and drinks.
  • After surgery, ask your health care team whether you need a dietary supplement, such as calcium or vitamin B12.

Questions you may want to ask a dietitian about nutrition

  • How do I keep from losing too much weight?
  • How do I know whether I'm getting enough calories and protein?
  • What are some sample meals that would meet my needs?
  • How can I include my favorite foods without causing or worsening digestive problems?
  • Are there foods or drinks that I should avoid?

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