Dysphagia: A Hard to Swallow Side Effect of Conventional Cancer Treatments

As if it is not bad enough to suffer from cancer and have to go through all the pain and stress of the many tests, the diagnosis and the treatments, conventional cancer treatments such as chemo, radiation, and/or surgery come with lingering side-effects that make life very difficult.

One such potential problem is that it can become hard to swallow without experiencing significant pain − a condition known as dysphagia, in which swallowing is difficult and/or painful.

It is difficult if not impossible to ensure that your Child with Cancer gets the correct nutrition to help fight their cancer and heal their body during and post-treatment when it is so difficult and painful for them to eat.


Conditions that can make it Difficult to Swallow

The following four conditions are all linked to Cancer & Cancer Treatments. They all make it difficult to swallow, hence difficult to consume the vital nutrients that are necessary for the body to help fight the cancer and heal itself:

  • Mucositis is the painful inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract, usually as an adverse effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer. Mucositis can occur anywhere along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but oral mucositis refers to the particular inflammation and ulceration that occurs in the mouth. Oral mucositis is a common and often debilitating complication of cancer treatment.
  • Fibrosis is the stiffening of the tissue in the throat resulting from the scarring of the smooth muscles of the food tube. These muscles help to move food down the tube into the stomach for further digestion. If the muscles are scarred and the slippery mucous is not excreted the food gets stuck going down, causing the patient to cough the food back up.
  • Infection is the result of the good bacteria being destroyed with therapy and thus pathogens are free to invade. Once infection sets in it causes inflammation and pain, making it difficult to impossible to swallow anything.
  • Inflammation occurs when the throat is infected or damaged by therapy. This turns into swelling that closes the throat thus preventing food from passing through it.


Other Causes of Dysphagia

  • Tightness in the throat can occur from anxiety and stress. A condition known as oesophageal achalasia prevents food from moving down the oesophagus and keeps the oesophageal sphincter tight. This keeps the food from moving into the stomach.

Choking, spasms, and vomiting can occur as a result. Learning how to relax the muscles and hold your head in ways to open the passage are helpful during attacks.

  • Iron Deficiency can cause web-like tissue shelves to form on the lining of the throat. The food can get caught on these extensions and prevent one from swallowing food. Increasing digestible iron in your diet can help resolve this issue.
  • Emotional Issues Surrounding Eating and the Pain of Eating are also relevant. If your child is afraid to eat because of pain and embarrassment from choking or vomiting it is unlikely they will desire to eat socially. This anxiety can cause tightening in the throat which can trigger dysphagic episodes. It is important that your child learn to be calm and control their throat while swallowing. Changing the form of their food into drinks, soups, or soft side dishes can help them swallow more easily.


Natural Remedies for Dysphagia

It is often easier to swallow a liquid that is thicker than plain water. So thicken your child’s drinks with high-quality nutrients such as freshly ground flax seed. This will produce anti-inflammatory effects, and will add fatty acids and antioxidants to their diet.

There are also other natural remedies for dysphagia, such as:


  • Raw Coconut Oil consumed on its own or in a smoothie will help kill fungus and viruses and will feed the body with vital nutrients and fatty acids to keep the body strong.
  • Coconut water from a fresh coconut is also good to add to the smoothie as it is filled with exceptional healing nutrients.
  • Fresh Organic Bananas add potassium to the diet.
  • Fresh Ground Organic Flaxseed is an excellent cereal additive for a smoothie to increase fatty acids and as a replacement for grains.


  • Wild oregano oil or olive leaf extract will coat an infected throat and kill the bacteria or virus.
  • Aloe Vera and Raw Cacao in a smoothie will help heal scar tissue and add significant nutrients such as magnesium and potassium to help with muscle contractions. Magnesium and potassium work to balance the ratio of relaxed and contracted muscle tissue.
  • Plantain, Sweet Violet, and St. John’s Wort in a tea infusion will help heal tissue while significantly reducing pain. They are also useful to calm the nerves, and effectively relax the muscles causing the spasms in the first place.


  • Get your child to relax their throat by tilting their head back and stretching the throat gently. Changing their position while dropping their jaw and stretching forward and back. This will help relieve the tension.
  • Experiment with water; get your child to take in some water by adjusting their head and jaw to open the throat until swallowing is easier. It is different with food but this will help get them acquainted with their throat and jaw to discover ways to assist their oesophagus until the area is functioning better.
  • Placing hot compresses of St. John’s Wort oil on a cloth soaked in hot water may help. Apply one to two drops of St. John’s Wort oil to the wet cloth and hold the compress on the area for ten minutes or until the cloth cools. Do this until the pain subsides.

Eating smaller meals more frequently can help by giving your Child with Cancer less to consume while maintaining nutrient levels in their body. If they are only able to eat a little, you have to make it count.

Feed your child the most nutrient-dense foods possible. Both fish oil and flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, producing anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic effects (thinning the blood). They also have a beneficial impact on one’s lipid profile, because they increase HDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides.

About LFCT

CHILDHOOD CANCER and CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS Little Fighters Cancer Trust is a non-profit Childhood Cancer support organisation that offers support and aid to Children with Cancer and their families. When a child is diagnosed with cancer it affects the whole family. One of the parents, usually the mother, must give up their job to care for the child and this creates financial problems for the family. In South Africa especially the majority of these families are not well-to-do; many of them are rural. A diagnosis of cancer can wipe out any family’s finances, let alone a poor family. The costs of special medications, special diets, hospital stays, transport to and from the hospital or clinic and accommodation and food costs for the mother who spends most of the time at her child’s bedside are astronomical. These are the people and problems that fall through the cracks, and these are the people that Little Fighters Cancer Trust has pledged to help in any way possible. LFCT takes a holistic approach to assisting the Children with Cancer and their Families, with the main aim to be the preservation of individual dignity and pride. Little Fighters Cancer Trust also focuses on promotion and advocacy of National Childhood Cancer Awareness in an effort to increase awareness of Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer. This would result in earlier diagnosis, giving the Child with Cancer more of a chance at Treatment and Survival. See "About" for more Background info

Posted on 25 May, 2017, in Alternative Treatments, Blog, Cancer Treatments, Side Effects and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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