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Cancer and Dysphagia

Rosemont Pharmaceuticals - Young ethnic mom with cancer holds her daughter - Cancer and Dysphagia

Does your patient have cancer and dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing difficulties and can be linked to cancer.[1] In this blog, we’ll be sharing all the information you need to know about cancer and swallowing difficulties.

Why does cancer cause dysphagia?

Some cancers and their treatments can cause the patient to experience a sore mouth and throat. This can make it difficult to swallow.[2] Here are some of the ways that cancer can cause dysphagia:


Tumours can block or narrow the food passage (especially in head and neck cancers). These tumours can also make it hard for muscles, like those in the tongue and throat, to move food around the mouth.[3]

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is another factor that can lead to dysphagia. Radiotherapy to the chest area can cause the oesophagus to swell, making it hard to swallow.[3] [4]


Surgery can cause dysphagia if any structures are removed that would usually help you to pass food and liquids. This includes structures in the head, neck, and oesophagus.[3] Stents put into the food pipe can also lead to swallowing difficulties.[2]


Chemotherapy can cause a sore mouth or throat, which may make it painful to swallow. This is also the case with targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy. [2]

What kind of cancer causes dysphagia?

Although cancer treatments can lead to swallowing difficulties, there are a variety of cancers that often cause a direct problem with swallowing. The types of cancers most likely to cause dysphagia are cancer of the: [2]

  • Voice box (larynx)
  • Thyroid gland
  • Mouth and tongue (oral cancer)
  • Throat (pharynx)
  • Nasal cavity and sinuses
  • Melanoma or other skin cancer on the face
  • Salivary glands
  • Oesophagus


For more information, visit this page: What Causes Dysphagia?

What are the signs of dysphagia?

When it comes to cancer and dysphagia, there are a few signs to look out for. These include: [1]

  • Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • Bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
  • A sensation that food is stuck in your throat or chest
  • Persistent drooling of saliva

Can cancer and dysphagia be treated?

Most cases of dysphagia can be aided with treatment.[1] This includes:

  • Speech and language therapy to learn techniques
  • Changing the consistency of food
  • Alternative forms of feeding, for example through the stomach


Dysphagia can also make it hard to swallow tablets or capsules. As many cancer patients must take medication, this can be an issue. Rosemont provides a wide range of oral liquid medicines to help with dysphagia.

ROS000048-012 DOP September 2023