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Mesothelioma and Dysphagia

Difficulty or discomfort when swallowing, commonly called dysphagia, is an uncommon symptom of pleural mesothelioma. When this problem develops it is usually caused by extended tumor growth in the chest cavity and by metastatic mesothelioma. Dysphagia can be painful. In extreme cases it can even impact weight, nutrition, quality of life, and cause respiratory infections.

If you have mesothelioma and  experience the dysphagia, your oncologist may want to examine you. He or she will typically use imaging tests to look for metastases or to check the growth of the original tumor. Treatments may help, but there are simple steps you can take to ensure you get proper nutrition if the dysphagia is not too severe.

What is Dysphagia?

In simple terms, dysphagia is difficulty swallowing. This condition may require extra time and effort to properly swallow food or beverages. What was once something you rarely thought becomes a painful struggle. Dysphagia may be obvious, although it can also me so mild that it is barely noticeable. It may feel like food gets stuck in your throat or chest. It may cause you to drool r make your voice hoarse. Dysphagia can also cause heartburn, acid reflux, and regurgitation. As a result, you may find yourself avoiding certain foods because they are uncomfortable to eat.

Complications of Dysphagia

If you experience dysphagia, it is important to inform your doctor or oncologist right away. If left untreated or you do not modify your diet, dysphagia can lead to dehydration, weight loss, and malnutrition. Other potential complications include respiratory difficulties. Trouble swallowing can result in food entering the airway, which in turn can lead to upper respiratory infections or pneumonia. These complications are all serious, especially if your health is already compromised.

How Mesothelioma Causes Dysphagia

During the earliest stages of mesothelioma, dysphagia in uncommon. It most often occurs in later stages as the tumors in the chest cavity metastasize. Your esophagus is the name of the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. All foods and liquids must move down your esophagus to reach your stomach and digestive tract. When tumors grow toward the esophagus, they can compress it, restricting the movement of foods and liquids. A tumor may also grow directly into the esophagus and cause dysphagia.

Several patients were diagnosed with mesothelioma after experiencing dysphagia, but this is very uncommon. Typically, the first symptoms someone with mesothelioma experiences are chest pains, difficulty breathing, and coughing. However, in rare cases, a tumor may grow close to the esophagus. For others, they may not receive a diagnosis until the cancer is advanced enough to affect the esophagus.

Treatment for Dysphagia

Difficulty swallowing is uncomfortable and has a ripple effect on health. If you struggle to swallow, it makes eating and drinking difficult. As a result, you may not eat as much as you would like or rely on foods that are easier to swallow. This can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. To remain healthy, it is important to treat dysphagia. Proper treatment can also make life more enjoyable and be used as palliative care when the underlying cancer cannot be cured.

Treatment strategies depend on the extent of the dysphagia. Lifestyle and dietary changes are generally helpful in the earlier stages of cancer. However, when those methods fail, medical treatments may be necessary. Surgery can remove part of the tumor and restore flow through the esophagus. However, surgery may not be an option if the patient’s overall health is poor. In severe cases of dysphagia, especially for patients in the hospital or hospice, a feeding tube can be used to maintain nutrition.

Coping with Dysphagia

In addition to medical treatment, there are ways you can eat that can help with difficulty swallowing. There are also a variety of foods you can eat to overcome issues associated with dysphagia. Eating in an upright position and maintaining good posture when swallowing is one important strategy. You can also eat small frequent meals rather than three big meals per day. Eating colder or room temperature foods may also help since hot foods can irritate your throat. Straws are helpful when drinking beverages or consuming liquid meals.

Foods with smooth textures are easiest to eat. However this does not mean you can only eat ice cream, milkshakes, and pudding. Smoothies are a healthier options and blend together dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and nutritional supplements. Soups are also great option, especially blended soups. For protein, foods like scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt are easy to swallow. If you continue to struggle swallowing, talk to your doctor about working with a dietitian or physical therapist.

Mesothelioma has many challenging symptoms including dysphagia. When you no longer enjoy food or drink, life becomes less enjoyable. When the inability to eat or drink causes dangerous weight loss, malnutrition, infections, and dehydration, your health deteriorates significantly. Monitor your symptoms carefully, and talk to your doctor when there are any changes. Dysphagia can usually be managed to ensure you get the good nutrition you need to fight mesothelioma.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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