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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Can someone with oesophageal cancer still eat?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 2

    Thanks

    Dr Michael Swan

    Gastroenterologist

    Michael Swan is a Gastroenterologist specialising in endoscopy, pancreaticobiliary disease and gastrointestinal cancer screening. Michael trained in clinical endoscopy with leaders in the field both … View Profile

    A person with oesophageal cancer can generally eat and drink, however there may be a limit to the types of food that can be eaten and the speed at which a meal is eaten. 
    Oesophageal cancer can present with pain with swallowing food or food ‘getting stuck’.
    Essentially the oesophagus is a muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. Cancer, if it develops, can cause the central opening (lumen) of the oesophagus to reduce in size. As a result of the smaller size, food can get stuck. Typically harder and tougher food types (bread, meat) are the first types of food to cause problems. As the cancer progresses, other food types can also cause problems. Only at late stages, do fluids cause a problem. 
    With treatment of the oesophageal cancer , the aim will be to improve the person's ability to swallow.

  • 1

    Thanks

    Chris Fonda

    Dietitian, Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian

    As an Accredited Sports Dietitian, APD and athlete (springboard diver), Chris has both professional and personal experience in sport at the sub-elite and elite level.Chris … View Profile

    As Dr Swan has mentioned a person with oesophageal cancer can still eat but certain foods may need to be avoided or changed depending on the symptoms. Certain foods may aggravate the symptoms and this can be easily avoided. If you could tell me more about the symptoms you are having I will be able to advise you on what to include in your diet. I look forward to your response. 

    You may like to consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) who specialises in head and neck cancers. You can find an APD on the Dietitians Association of Australia's website: www.daa.asn.au

  • 3

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    Dr Salena Ward

    Bariatric (Obesity) Surgeon, General Surgeon, Upper GI Surgeon (Abdominal)

    I am a specialist Upper Gastrointestinal (gut) Surgeon, who performs surgery for weight loss, tumours of stomach and oesophagus, reflux, hiatus hernia and gallstones. I … View Profile

    As has been mentioned, patients with oesophageal cancer can often eat, but also often have to alter their diet or if the cancer is large enough to narrow the oesophagus. These alterations of diet are eating more soft/mushy foods or even being restricted to soups and liquids.

    Conversely, it is important to remember that just because you can still eat relatively normally, this does not mean you don't have oesophageal cancer.

    The important message is that if anyone is having difficulty swallowing, particularly initially with food like fresh bread or chunks of meat getting stuck, it is important to discuss this with your doctor soon and it may be pertinent to undergo an endoscopy to rule out cancer.  If you wait till your swallowing problem progresses so you can only eat mushy food or are restricted to liquids, then it will probably be much harder to treat the cancer at this later stage.

    It is also important to note that early oesophageal cancer does not have symptoms, and hence if anyone has a risk factor for oesophageal cancer, such as many many years of untreated acid reflux, then an endoscopy (camera into the oesophagus) may also be indicated to rule out cancer or pre-cancer, and then the acid reflux should also be treated.

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