A specialist dietitian is part of the multidisciplinary team, supporting head and neck cancer patients with their diet to ensure it remains as balanced as possible. A patient will complete a dietary assessment at diagnosis, and this is repeated throughout treatment.
Head and neck cancer treatment causes a variety of side effects, some of which are likely to impact on managing a ‘normal’ diet. Even before treatment begins, a head and neck cancer patient may experience difficulties eating and drinking due to the location of the disease - for example, swallowing problems or pain on eating.
The importance of nutrition
Throughout head and neck cancer treatment, it is important for a patient to be as well nourished as possible. This is to ensure that their body is able to maintain weight, tolerate the treatment, and repair itself afterwards. Monitoring nutrition is an essential part of treatment.
What is the role of the dietician?
Head and neck dieticians will:
- Make an assessment, of a patient's individual nutritional needs.
- Advise on how planned treatment may affect a patient's ability to eat and drink.
- Discuss nutritional goals and agree on a suitable plan with a patient to help achieve the goals.
- Provide practical dietary advice and written information to help implement changes.
Which eating and drinking problems might be experienced?
The type of problems experienced with eating and drinking by head and neck cancer patients will vary depending on the type and duration of their treatment. The dieticians advise on any problems and side effects of planned treatment. These may include:
- Difficulty chewing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain related to eating and drinking
- Taste changes
- Mouth dryness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Different diet types
If eating normally is an issue, a dietician can provide information on different types of diets to enable a patient to meet their nutritional intake. The following links are to the different types of diet available and how to increase nutritional intake as part of the diet types:
When eating and drinking becomes more difficult, feeding tubes may be offered to ensure a patient receives the nutrition they need. There are different types of feeding tubes.
Dietary myths and cancer
The British Dietary Association has recently produced several resources, including a patient information booklet on dietary myths and cancer.