Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

Difficulty swallowing

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Difficulty swallowing can be caused by the tumour itself or if the oesophagus is narrowed after surgery or radiotherapy. Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you have difficulty swallowing. You may need to change the way you eat until things improve, or you may need treatment if the problem continues. 

Treatments for swallowing problems

Oesophageal dilation (stretching)

This uses an instrument called a dilator that stretches and widens a narrowed area in your oesophagus so food and drink can pass through again. It can be done quickly under general or local anaesthetic. The dilation may last only a short time and need to be repeated a few weeks or months later. 

Oesophageal stent

A hollow tube called a stent is put into your oesophagus under local or general anaesthetic. Once in place, it expands to keep your oesophagus open so you can swallow more easily.

You will need to chew your food thoroughly before swallowing so the stent does not get blocked. Foods that are soft and moist are generally the most suitable. But you may need to blend your food too. Having drinks with your food and after food can help to keep the stent clean.

Laser therapy

A laser beam is used to burn the cancer away. It will not destroy the entire tumour but will allow food to pass down to your stomach and so make swallowing easier. Laser therapy is usually done under general anaesthetic. Once you are asleep, your oesophagus may be dilated (widened) so that an endoscope can be passed through. Then a flexible tube is passed through the endoscope so the laser beam can reach the tumour. Another session may be needed if you have a severe blockage in your oesophagus. It can also be repeated after 4–6 weeks if needed. 

The treatment does not hurt but you might get some swelling in your oesophagus for a short while. You may find it more difficult to swallow at first but this will pass. There may also be some discomfort in your tummy. Let your doctor know if you have any pain or discomfort.

For more information

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