Eating well during head and neck cancer treatment [6.52]

Eating well during head and neck cancer treatment video transcript


My name's Katie and I'm a dietitian from the Sir Charles Gardner Osborne Park Hospital Group.

In this video I'm going to speak to you about nutrition during your head and neck cancer treatment, the role of the dietitian and how to prepare for treatment. Nutrition plays an important role during your head and neck cancer treatment. Cancer treatment and the cancer itself can mean that your nutritional needs are greater than they might normally be. Eating well during your treatment is important to help you maintain your weight and your muscle, to help you feel stronger and better, help to prevent the risk of infection and Hospital admissions, help you cope with some of the potential side effects of treatment, and also help in recovery post-treatment.

As nutrition is essential, we would encourage you to start to think of food as medicine. Many people with head and neck cancer will experience difficulties eating or drinking. This can be due to the cancer itself and where it is located, due to surgery, or treatment. Common treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination. Difficulty in eating is a common side effect, along with nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, changes in your taste or pain in the mouth. It is important to remember that everyone's treatment experience is different, and these side effects may or may not occur.

Dietitians are experts in nutrition, and they play an important role in your head and neck cancer treatment alongside your doctors, nurses and speech pathologists. During your treatment they will help you to maintain good nutrition and to maintain your weight. They will assess your current diet and provide recommendations on how you can improve your intake. They will also help you to cope with some of the side effects you may experience from your treatment, and they may advise you on specific nutrition supplements to include in your diet every day. All patients receiving radiotherapy for head and neck cancer should receive a referral to the dietitian. The dietitian will likely see you in the beginning of your treatment and continue to follow up with you throughout your treatment and after you have finished. If you have been eating poorly due to reduced appetite or difficulty swallowing or you have lost weight without trying and you have not received a referral to the dietitian, please let one of your health care team members know, so that they can refer you to the dietitian and you can be seen as soon as possible.

In the lead up to your treatment it's important to start eating well and focusing on maintaining your weight. We would encourage you to start eating regular meals and including snacks in between. If you are struggling to eat regularly due to a reduced appetite or difficulty swallowing. We would encourage you to focus on eating smaller more frequent meals over the day, including high energy and high protein foods.

During your treatment you may experience fatigue or not feel up to cooking. Before your treatment it's a good time to identify family and friends who may be able to assist with shopping and cooking. It can also be helpful to keep on hand some reheatable meals or some tin foods for those times when you're not feeling up to cooking.

During your treatment you may need to modify the texture of your food to make it easier and more comfortable to swallow. Some cooking utensils and appliances that may help in modifying the texture of your food include a potato masher, a blender and a slow cooker.

We would encourage you to start including foods high in energy and high in protein. You may also hear us refer to these foods as part of a nourishing diet. The reason why we choose these foods is that they provide your body with fuel. They also help to maintain your weight and help to maintain, build and restore the muscle on your body. High energy and high protein foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy products including milk, yogurt, cheese, cream, and custard. Along with things like honey, jam, butter, margarine, cooking oils, and avocados.

Nourishing drinks are also high in energy and protein and generally have a milk base. These might include things such as full cream milk, milkshakes, up and go, homemade fruit-based smoothies and nutrition supplements.

During chemotherapy you may experience a weakened immune system. This means you may be at higher risk of foodborne illness. To ensure that you remain well we would encourage you to be safe with your food preparation and handling. To do so, we would recommend that you wash your hands well before preparing meals and before eating meals. Ensure that you're cooking your food well and through, for example: meat and eggs. We encourage you to store your food at the correct temperatures and reheat to the right temperatures before eating your food.

Good nutrition is also important after you have completed your treatment. We would encourage you to continue to focus on eating regular meals and establish your normal dietary pattern as soon as you can after treatment if it is safe to do so. It is also important to try and maintain your weight until your side effects have improved.

Thank you for watching this video. We hope it has been helpful. For more information on a nourishing diet or how to manage nutrition related side effects of your treatment please see our other videos.

Last Updated: 07/03/2023