Spit It Out!

After chemo and radiotherapy for neck cancer 7 years ago, I have managed to adapt fairly well to quite severe swallowing problems.

However, one of the most difficult side-effects I have had to tackle is a dry mouth, with a constant amount of thick, stringy saliva, which can build up to an extent where I feel physically sick. It’s not only distressing, it’s also embarrassing.

To cope with this, I took the advice of Macmillan Cancer Support and made up a concoction of sodium bicarbonate mouthwash. Add one teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate to 550ml (one pint) of cooled, boiled waterand swish it round your mouth, before spitting it out.

It’s not perfect – but, my goodness, it works for me. Thing is, you have to keep a bottle with you when eating out, but I’ve found that by taking a few slurps before a meal, it stops the sticky stuff from forming too much. (You can swallow it, if you are in company!)

If you don’t fancy the taste of sodium bicarb, you can settle for plain water. Just keep taking sips all the time. If you are able to taste food, taking frequent sips of water or sodium bicarb doesn’t affect the taste of the food – at least not in my case.

Doing this also lessens the strain of chewing and swallowing, which can get very tiring. But don’t do it with fizzy drinks, like cola. Doesn’t work! Be interested to hear your comments or other useful tips.

Mary Bishop-Pinn


New Treatment

New radiation technique that reduces the side-effect of swallowing difficulties

A new treatment to improve the lives of patients undergoing radiotherapy for throat cancer has been successfully trialled by the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Institute of Cancer Research. 

According to reports, the treatment should be ready to roll out across NHS cancer centres next year (2021). 

Prof Chris Nutting, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden (quoted in the Daily Mail  by Adrian Monti: Oct 13, 2020) -explained: “Most cancer patients with head and neck cancers have intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which has been the gold standard treatment since 2011. 

“The radiation needs to pass through the skin and other tissue to reach the tumour and can cause collateral damage around the treatment site, to important structures in the throat area.” 

But with the new treatment – called optimised IMRT – Prof Nutting said each radiotherapy course is designed for the patient like a ‘bespoke suit’. 

Prof Nutting said: “This is a game changer. In our clinical study of 112 patients from 23 cancer centres, 25% fewer patients suffered with swallowing issues when they got optimised IMRT, compared with those who received radiotherapy via the standard technique.” 

He added: “It means many patients will be able to return to eating normally again after treatment.” 

Results of the study, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology virtual conference in May 2020, found that 40% of patients who had received optimised IMRT reported significant improvements in swallowing one year after treatment, compared with only 15% of those who had the standard treatment. 

Dr David Thomson, a consultant clinical oncologist at The Christie Cancer Centre in Manchester, said he believes the study’s findings will change how patients are treated in the future. 

“Radiotherapy is used to treat head and neck cancers, which usually respond well and there is a good chance of cure,” Dr Thomson said. 

“This practice-changing style should result in the rapid adoption of this technique throughout the UK and an international standard of care for this cancer treatment.”  

Watch a video with Professor Nutting and a speech and language therapist discussing this topic: