Problems swallowing, also called dysphagia, can make eating an uncomfortable process. During meals, you may experience gagging, choking, coughing, spitting, or pain when trying to swallow. The sensation that food is stuck in your throat, upper chest, or behind the breastbone can cause feelings of chest pain, heaviness, or pressure.
The following breast cancer treatments can affect your ability to swallow:
- daunorubicin (brand names: Cerubidine, DaunoXome), a chemotherapy medicine
- radiation therapy
- certain bisphosphonates: Zometa (chemical name: zoledronic acid), Aredia (chemical name: pamidronate disodium) and Bonefos (chemical name: clodronate) are bone-strengthening medicines used to treat breast cancer that has spread to the bone.
Some pain medications also can cause swallowing problems.
Managing swallowing problems
- Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly to make it as soft and manageable as possible.
- Try thicker liquids such as milkshakes, yogurt, pudding, and gelatin. Thicker liquids may be easier to swallow.
- Eat pureed food such as blended meats, cereals, and fruits. You may need to add some liquid.
- Stay away from dry foods such as crackers, nuts, and chips.
- Avoid very hot foods, as these could cause more swallowing pain or difficulty.
- Don’t eat spicy and acidic foods that can irritate your mouth and throat.
- Ask your doctor if you can crush medicines that are in pill or tablet form and mix with juice or applesauce. Make sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist first — some medicines can be dangerous if crushed. Other medicines react badly with certain foods and others must be taken on an empty stomach.
- Avoid alcohol — it can burn your mouth or throat if you have sores.
- Sit up and stay seated while eating to ease the swallowing process.