Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

What You Need To Know About™

Oral Cancer

  • Posted: 12/23/2009


Your diet is an important part of your treatment for oral cancer. You need the right amount of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals to maintain your strength and to heal.

However, when you have oral cancer, it may be difficult to eat. You may be uncomfortable or tired, and you may have a dry mouth, have trouble swallowing, or not feel like eating. You also may have nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea from cancer treatment or pain medicine.

Tell your health care team if you're having any problems eating, drinking, or digesting your food. If you're losing weight, a dietitian can help you choose the foods and nutrition products that will meet your needs.

You may want to read the NCI booklet Eating Hints. It contains many useful ideas and recipes.

Sore Mouth

If your mouth is sore, you may find that you want to avoid acidic foods, such as oranges and tomatoes. Also, to protect your mouth during cancer treatment, it helps to avoid sharp, hard foods, such as chips.

Dry Mouth

If your mouth is dry, you may find that soft foods moistened with sauces or gravies are easier to eat. Smooth soups, puddings, milkshakes, and blended fruit smoothies often are easier to swallow. Also, meal replacement products (such as instant breakfast, Boost®, or Ensure®) may be helpful.

Keep in mind that a dry mouth puts you at greater risk for tooth decay (cavities). Rinse your mouth often, especially after eating or drinking sweet foods.

Trouble Swallowing

If there's a chance that swallowing will become too difficult for you, your dietitian and doctor may recommend another way for you to receive nutrition. For example, after surgery or during radiation therapy for oral cancer, some people need a temporary feeding tube. A feeding tube is a flexible tube that is usually passed into the stomach through an incision in the abdomen. A liquid meal replacement product (such as Boost or Ensure) can be poured through the tube at mealtime. When not in use, the small tube attached to your stomach is not visible to others.