Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment

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Fatigue

Mouth dryness or thick saliva

Radiation therapy to the head and neck areas, some types of chemo, and certain other medicines can cause dry mouth or thick saliva. The glands that make saliva can become irritated and make less saliva, or your saliva can become very thick and sticky. Dryness can be mild or severe.

A dry mouth can increase your risk of cavities and mouth infection. If you smoke or chew tobacco or drink alcohol, the dryness can be worse. If you have either of these side effects, drink plenty of fluids throughout the day and eat moist foods as much as possible. Also brush your teeth and rinse your mouth often with the baking soda, salt, and water solution to help keep it clean and prevent infection (recipe below).

What to do

  • Drink 8 to 10 cups of liquid a day, and take a water bottle with you when you leave home. (Drinking lots of fluids helps thin mucus.)
  • Take small bites, and chew your food well.
  • Eat soft, moist foods that are cool or at room temperature. Try blenderized fruits and vegetables, soft-cooked chicken and fish, well-thinned cereals, popsicles, smoothies, and slushies. Avoid foods that stick to the roof of the mouth like peanut butter or soft bread.
  • Moisten foods with broth, soup, sauces, gravy, yogurt, or creams.
  • Suck on sugarless candy or chew sugarless gum to stimulate saliva. Lemon drops often work well.
  • Keep your mouth clean. Rinse your mouth before and after meals with plain water or a mild mouth rinse (made with 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda – shake well before using). Use a soft-bristle toothbrush. It is a good idea to gently brush your tongue, too. Ask your doctor if it’s OK to floss.
  • Avoid commercial mouthwashes, alcoholic and acidic drinks, and tobacco.
  • Limit drinks with caffeine, like coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to moisten room air, especially at night. (Be sure to keep the humidifier clean to avoid spreading bacteria or mold in the air.)
  • Fresh pineapple may help to thin saliva, but only try this if your mouth is not sore.
  • Saliva substitutes are helpful if your salivary glands have been removed by surgery or damaged by radiation therapy. These products add moisture to your mouth.
  • Nutritional supplements, like liquid meal replacements, may be helpful. Talk to your health care team about this.

What to eat or not eat when you have a dry mouth*

 

    Eat

    Foods that may cause problems

    High protein

    Meats, poultry, and fish in sauces and gravies

    Casseroles, soups, and stews

    Dry meats, poultry, and fish without sauces

    Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta

    Bread, rolls

    Cooked and cold cereals, cereal with milk

    Rice soaked in gravy, sauce, broth, or milk

    Dry breads, rolls

    Pasta, rice

    Pretzels, chips

    Cereal

    Fruits and vegetables

    Canned and fresh fruits that have a lot of moisture, like oranges and peaches

    Vegetables in sauce

    Bananas, dried fruit

    Vegetables, unless in a sauce or with a high moisture content

    Drinks, desserts, and other foods

    Club soda, hot tea with lemon, fruit-ades, diluted juices, sports drinks

    Commercial liquid nutrition supplements

    Homemade milk shakes; ice cream, sherbet, pudding

    Butter, margarine

    Salad dressing

    Sour cream, half-and-half

    Cookies, cake, pie, unless soaked in milk

*Adapted from Eldridge B, and Hamilton KK, Editors, Management of Nutrition Impact Symptoms in Cancer and Educational Handouts. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004.


Last Medical Review: 05/26/2012
Last Revised: 03/15/2013