In my work at Torbay Hospital I meet people diagnosed with head and neck cancer before they start any treatment. We check that they’re not having any problems eating or drinking, then we look after them right the way through their treatment and for as long as they need afterwards.
As treatment starts we aim to optimise nutritional intake, to ensure patients are well prepared to face the challenges treatment can bring. We also look at improving their body composition and muscle mass by making sure they’re exercising and keeping active, which has been shown to improve quality of life in people facing treatment for cancer. People having treatment for head and neck cancer often say to me that they could be eating cardboard. Their food has no taste, its texture is grainy and gritty in their mouths, and it’s really difficult for them to push the food around their mouth because their tongues are very sore. We counsel them to use their painkillers and mouthwashes effectively, and to adjust the texture of foods to make eating easier.
Eating can be a challenge
When going through cancer, eating can be a challenge and knowing what to eat can be very difficult and sometimes confusing. That's why World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF)’s Eat well during cancer booklet is really important, and will help many people living with cancer. There are some invaluable tips on how different foods can help them cope with some of the common treatment side-effects. It has been written by specialist dietitians, like me, who work with cancer patients, so they can be confident that the information is accurate and practical.
I use it regularly with people before they start their treatment. I’m really fortunate that we get to see our patients weekly – more often if they need it – so I can provide tailored, practical advice to every patient. But it’s really useful to have a general booklet – it’s got great recipes and tips, and patients can keep it at home or in their bag to browse when they’re out and about. It helps to promote independence and empowers them to manage their own health conditions – a key aim.
I feel really lucky to be able to use the WCRF resources and have seen first-hand the positive impact that they have on people’s wellbeing.