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Esophageal cancer and the treatments used to address it, including chemotherapy, can sometimes make it difficult to swallow. This side effect, which is known as dysphagia, can interfere with both eating and drinking. When trying to swallow, some people cough, gag or feel as if food has become stuck in their throat. Some chemotherapy drugs can also affect the taste of foods and beverages, lead to a loss of appetite or cause swelling, sores or infections to develop in the mouth.

The side effects of chemotherapy for esophageal cancer can vary based on the specific drugs administered and other individual factors. Therefore, you are encouraged to talk with your treatment team to make sure that you understand what to expect and which signs to report right away. You might find it helpful to keep a journal detailing your treatment experience, which you can use as a handy reference when you meet with your oncologist to create a plan to manage your side effects.

Some helpful tactics

Here are five strategies that you might use during your treatment to help manage dysphagia and other related side effects of chemotherapy for esophageal cancer:

  1. Sit up straight while eating and drinking
  2. Eat foods that are soft, smooth and moist, such as yogurt, eggs and blended casseroles
  3. Take small bites and chew food slowly and thoroughly before swallowing
  4. Drink liquids through a straw
  5. Drink meal replacement or nutritional supplement beverages instead of eating solid foods

As you undergo chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, it will be important for you to remain strong and well nourished. To help you do so, you might consider consulting with a nutritionist. An experienced dietitian can complete a comprehensive nutritional assessment based on a review of your health history, esophageal cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, then recommend appropriate foods and beverages to optimize your health and well-being. A dietitian can also monitor your nutritional status throughout your treatment and modify your dietary plan as necessary to address any side effects.

If you have further questions about what to expect during chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, consider talking with an expert in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. You don’t need a referral; call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online to get started.