Swallowing DifficultiesSymptom Management, Palliative Care, or Supportive Care to relieve side-effects is an important part of cancer care and treatment and should always form part of the overall treatment plan.

Difficulty in swallowing is also called dysphagia, and occurs when an individual has trouble getting food or liquid to pass down the mouth or throat. Some individual may gag, cough, or choke when trying to swallow, while others may feel like the food is stuck in their throat.

One cause of dysphagia can be the cancer itself, especially mouth, throat, or oesophageal cancers, which can cause the passages to become restricted or narrowed.

Dysphagia is also a common side effect of some cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, surgery, and, less commonly, chemotherapy.

Side effects of cancer treatment that may also cause swallowing difficulties include:

  • Fibrosis – scarring or stiffness in the throat, oesophagus, or mouth
  • Infections of the mouth or oesophagus from radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • Mucositis – soreness, pain, or inflammation in the throat, oesophagus, or mouth. Pain associated with mucositis may worsen swallowing problems.
  • Physical Changes to the jaws, mouth, oesophagus, or throat from surgery
  • Swelling or Narrowing of the throat or oesophagus from radiation therapy or surgery
  • Xerostomia (dry mouth) – from chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also worsen swallowing problems.

It is important to distinguish between feeling like food is sticking in your child’s throat and food that is going the wrong way from pain while swallowing, in order to best manage problems with swallowing.

Your child’s doctor may refer your child to a speech pathologist to teach them how to swallow more easily and avoid choking and gagging while eating and drinking. It is often better for those with cancer involving the throat to meet with a speech pathologist to begin swallowing therapy before starting cancer treatment.


Read more about the Effects, Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment and more regarding Swallowing Difficulties on our static page, Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia) in Childhood Cancer


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