It is important to remember that not all patients will experience these side effects and your treating team are happy to answer any questions you may have.
What is inflammation of the oesophagus (food pipe) and when can it happen?
The oesophagus (food pipe) is located behind your trachea (wind pipe). If your radiation treatment is being given near your oesophagus you may experience some inflammation or irritation in this area. This can occur 2 to 3 weeks after you begin treatment and may be ongoing.
What are some of the problems I might experience?
- weight loss
- pain on eating and drinking – odynophagia
- difficulty swallowing – dysphagia
- acid taste in the back of the throat
- changes in taste
- thick saliva
- voice changes
- nausea and vomiting - read more about nausea and vomiting during cancer treatment in the patient information sheet
- rarely – bleeding.
Contact your treating team if you notice any of these problems.
Who else can help me?
- Dietitian – your doctor may refer you to a dietitian (someone who specialises in looking after your food intake during and after treatment) before your radiotherapy begins. Some patients may require a feeding tube; your doctor will discuss this with you if you need one.
- Speech pathologist – your doctor may refer you to a speech pathologist (someone who specialises in helping you with your swallowing and speech problems).
What medicine can I take to relieve the pain?
Your doctor may be able to give you some medicines to help relieve the pain in your throat and chest. They will advise you when to take any medicines. These may include:
- soluble paracetamol (gargle before eating)
- medications, lozenges and throat sprays (to temporarily numb your mouth and throat).
Please discuss with your doctor or nurse before using these products and if you continue to experience pain.
How can I manage oesophagitis?
There are some things that you can do to ease the pain:
- changing your diet and eating habits (see below for tips)
- gargle soluble paracetamol before eating
- eat small frequent meals and avoid foods that will stretch your oesophagus.
Should I be on a special diet?
A dietitian can offer advice on what to eat and help you with meal plan particularly if you are having difficulty eating or experiencing weight loss.
- It is recommended that you enjoy a balanced diet while you are on treatment and drink plenty of fluids.
- Choose foods that are soft, moist, and easy to swallow, such as rice, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, and yoghurt.
- Eat slowly and chew your food well.
- Use gravies and sauces to moisten foods.
- Avoid crunchy, acidic or spicy foods.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or sour juice.
- Avoid food and drink that is very hot or cold.
- If you have trouble swallowing pills, ask your nurse or pharmacist if you can crush them and take them with a teaspoon of custard or yoghurt.
- Alternatively, ask your doctor if your medication comes in liquid form.
- Sit up or slightly reclined during the meal and for an hour after eating to aid digestion.
Important: Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you:
- have a temperature of 38°C or higher
- are feeling sick and vomiting all the time (can’t keep any food or drink down)
- are unable to eat or drink
- see blood when you cough
- cough a lot when eating or drinking.
Please contact your doctor or treating team if you have any further questions or concerns.
Read more about mouth problems during cancer treatment in the patient information sheet.