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Oral Cancer (cont.)

What is rehabilitation for oral cancer?

Eating well during cancer treatment means getting enough calories and protein to prevent weight loss, regain strength, and rebuild healthy tissues. But eating well may be difficult after treatment for oral cancer. Some people with cancer find it hard to eat because they lose their appetite. They may not feel like eating because they are uncomfortable or tired. A dry or sore mouth or changes in smell and taste also may make eating difficult.

If your mouth is dry, you may find that soft foods moistened with sauces or gravies are easier to eat. Thick soups, puddings, and milkshakes often are easier to swallow. Nurses and dietitians can help you choose the right foods. Also, the National Cancer Institute booklet Eating Hints for Cancer Patients contains many useful ideas and recipes. The "National Cancer Institute Information Resources" section tells how to get this publication.

After surgery or radiation therapy for oral cancer, some people need a feeding tube. A feeding tube is a flexible plastic tube that is passed into the stomach through an incision in the abdomen. In almost all cases, the tube is temporary. Most people gradually return to a regular diet.

To protect your mouth during cancer treatment, it helps to avoid:

  • Sharp, crunchy foods like taco chips
  • Foods that are hot, spicy, or high in acid like citrus fruits and juices
  • Sugary foods that can cause cavities
  • Alcoholic drinks


Some people with oral cancer may need to have plastic or reconstructive surgery to rebuild the bones or tissues of the mouth. Research has led to many advances in the way bones and tissues can be replaced.

Some people may need dental implants. Or they may need to have grafts (tissue moved from another part of the body). Skin, muscle, and bone can be moved to the oral cavity from the chest, arm, or leg. The plastic surgeon uses this tissue for repair.

If you are thinking about reconstruction, you may wish to consult with a plastic or reconstructive surgeon before your treatment begins. You can have reconstructive surgery at the same time as you have the cancer removed, or you can have it later on. Talk with your doctor about which approach is right for you.


The health care team will help you return to normal activities as soon as possible. The goals of rehabilitation depend on the extent of the disease and type of treatment. Rehabilitation may include being fitted with a dental prosthesis (an artificial dental device) and having dental implants. It also may involve speech therapy, dietary counseling, or other services.

Sometimes surgery to rebuild the bones or tissues of the mouth is not possible. A dentist with special training (a prosthodontist) may be able to make you a prosthesis to help you eat and talk normally. You may need special training to learn to use it.

If oral cancer or its treatment leads to problems with talking, speech therapy will generally begin as soon as possible. A speech therapist may see you in the hospital to plan therapy and teach speech exercises. Often speech therapy continues after you return home.


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