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Thread: Throat Cancer Radiation help

  1. #1

    Throat Cancer Radiation help

    My 58 year old dad was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in the left tonsil-stage 3-spread to 1 lymphnode.He is on treatment 19.He takes 1 hour of radiation in the morning with 4-5 hours of chemotherapy to follow.He had a feeding tube put in a few weeks ago,due to dramatic weight loss.He has lost all tastebuds and cant barely swallow.We have tried many foods,all unsuccessful.They prescribed a burn cream,because the radiation has burned him so bad,my pale fathers neck went from pink,to red,to now its coal black.My question is there anything i can do to make life any easier on him,hes suffering so bad,hes hungry,n wants to eat.hes burning from the radiation.This is the saddest thing ive ever seen.Cancer is so far more worse than i ever expected.Please any advice,would be greatly appreciated.Really a tip anything please help me help my daddy

  2. #2
    Administrator Top User lisa1962's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Hello tabbyjayne1981 and welcome to our forum but sorry to hear of your dear Father's struggles with treatment. Radiation can be complicated especially treating the cancer in that area. Burning sadly, it common. Perhaps, he might do better with fluids. Things such as protein drinks might help to restore some calories. Even those drinks can be tricky.

    If the Cancer Center where he is being treated has a dietician on staff, your family may want to reach out to them to see what can be suggested. I am sure his physician is aware of the situation but perhaps a call to the oncologist is in order.

    I am sure others will chime in when available so please do check back for responses.


  3. #3
    Moderator Top User IndyLou's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Hello, Tabby-

    I can sympathize greatly with your father and his situation, as I experienced the same thing. Can you tell me a little about his radiation treatment? Are they using intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)? The reason I ask, is that type of RT is a little more precise, and the long-term outcome should be positive. What I mean is, his taste and salivary functions will improve over time, following his treatment. Unfortunately, the healing is measured in terms of months, not days or weeks.

    As for your dad's immediate needs, it could get worse before it gets better. There are a number of oral anesthetics and debriding agents that your radiologist's office can suggest, including some mouth washes with lidocaine. Those can ease the pain and help healing within the mouth. Don't be afraid to try a number of different things, including hydrogen peroxide/water mouth rinse, or even a saline (salt water) rinse. I would encourage you to allow whatever fluid you use for rinsing, to come to room temperature before using. Extremely cold or hot drinks can be hard to hold in the mouth.

    Your father's doctor(s) should be offering pain management, and your father's pain is probably significant enough to require opioid drugs. Hydrocodone is available in a liquid form, should your father be unable to swallow pills. Encourage him not to be a martyr when it comes to pain management. It's sad, but opioids have received a bad rap from abusers of pain drugs; for cancer patients, they're a must.

    As for relief to the external areas of his neck, there are cool-gel packs (the kind they use for severe sunburn), that can ease the pain.

    Nutrition is vitally important, but your father is in a quandary. Not only is it difficult to swallow and eat, it may get to a point where the act of eating isn't enjoyable. Even foods with bland tastes are offensive in the mouth of a head & neck cancer patient, and they may avoid eating altogether. This is a double-whammy, because not only do you avoid eating, your swallowing function will start to atrophy after lack of use. As you pointed out, weight loss is one side-effect, but with all the trauma to the body from treatment, it's vital to maintain energy so the body can heal itself. I lost about 25 pounds, which at the time, was about 14% of my body weight.

    On a positive note, it's good that he has a feeding tube. Can I ask, is he using this, and what kind of nutrition is he taking through the tube? They have specially-made formulas with all the nutrients. Mine came in cartons, and each one was about 350 calories. I needed to consume about 6 cartons per day, but could only do about 2 at a time--the volume was simply too great to do any more. Some days, I was only able to take 5 cartons, so I was barely maintaining 2000 calories/day.

    As I said earlier, it's important to swallow and use the mouth as much as possible. If your father develops mucositis, or his mouth, tongue and gums become inflamed, that's hard to do sometimes. Continue to use the saline rinses before and after eating, and try to keep oral hygiene up as much as possible. Experiment with different foods: what worked for me might not work for him, and vice-versa. Some foods to try include soups, puddings, mashed potatoes, eggs, smoothies, and drinks like Ensure.

    On the other hand, foods that are dry or spicy can be a challenge. Avoid tomato sauces, breads, dry meats like chicken, turkey, beef/hamburger, and citrus juices like orange or lemonade. If your radiologist's office has a dietician on staff, or access, please consult with them for more ideas. Equally important for nutrition and healing is staying hydrated. Ensure your father is taking water regularly, throughout the day, even if he can only sip a little at a time.

    In the short term, this is tough to watch. At visit 19, your father should be more than halfway through his radiation treatments however, so the end is in sight. It may get worse, before it starts to get better. Be patient with him, especially when experimenting with foods. Encourage him to eat, but don't insist on it. He should continue to take pain meds as long as he needs, and practice good oral hygiene, including rinsing on a regular basis.

    Best wishes to you and your father, and feel free to ask any other questions.
    Age 54 Male
    early Feb, 2013 - Noticed almond-sized lump in shaving area, right side of neck. No other "classic" cancer symptoms
    late Feb, 2013 - Visited PCP for check-up, PCP advised as lymphoma. Did blood work, orders for CT-scan, referred to ENT
    3/7/13 - CT-scan inconclusive, endoscopy negative
    3/9/13 - FNA of neck mass
    3/14/13 - Received dx of squamous-cell carcinoma, unknown primary
    3/25/13 - CT-PET scan reveals no other active tumors
    3/26/13 - work/up for IMRT
    4/1/13 - W1, D1 of weekly cetuximab
    4/8/13 - W1, D1 of IMRT
    5/20/13 - complete 8 week regimen of weekly cetuximab
    5/24/13 - Complete 35-day regimen of daily IMRT
    mid-July 2013 - CT-PET scan reveals no active tumors, but shows necrotic tissue at site of original tumor
    early Sept 2013 - partial neck dissection to remove necrotic tissue. Assay shows no cancer present.
    Spring 2014 - No signs of cancer
    Spring 2015 - NED
    Spring 2016 - NED
    Spring 2017 - NED
    Spring 2018 - NED
    Spring 2019 - NED


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