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The experience of food, eating and meals following radiotherapy for head and neck cancer: a qualitative study

Authors


Correspondence: Sandra Ottosson, Lecturer, Department of Clinical Sciences, Otorhinolaryngology, Umeå University, 90187 Umeå, Sweden. Telephone: +46 90 786 9527. E-mail: sandra.ottosson@kost.umu.se

Abstract

Aims and objectives

To describe the experience of food, eating and meals following radiotherapy in patients with head and neck cancer.

Background

Eating problems are common in patients with head and neck cancer and may remain for a long period of time after treatment.

Design

A qualitative study design using in-depth semi-structured interviews.

Methods

Interviews were conducted nine months after the termination of radiotherapy. A purposive sample of thirteen patients with head and neck cancer participated in the study. The interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using content analysis.

Results

The experience of food, eating and meals up to nine months after radiotherapy was captured in six categories: ‘A long journey – taking small steps to an uncertain future’, ‘A new way of eating’, ‘Eating without satisfaction’, ‘Challenging meals outside the family’, ‘Support and information – the key to a successful journey’ and ‘The creation and acceptance of a new normal’.

Conclusion

This study provides new information on the long-term aspects of food, eating and meals in patients with head and neck cancer. Head and neck cancer signifies a long journey with problems affecting physical, psychological and social aspects of food. Information and support and the use of strategies are important for patients with head and neck cancer to adapt to new possibilities for living after cancer treatment.

Relevance to clinical practice

All members of the multiprofessional team need to be aware of the struggles with food and eating experienced by patients with head and neck cancer during the convalescent period. It is therefore important that the follow-up focuses on all aspects of food, eating and meals as a part of a holistic approach.

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