Doctors typically perform a laryngectomy, or voice box removal, as a result of laryngeal cancer or other damage to the larynx. After a laryngectomy, the patient learns to swallow and speak in new ways as part of a successful recovery. Without a larynx, the patient smells and tastes food differently, and may experience difficulty consuming adequate nutrition to maintain a healthy weight.
After surgery to remove the larynx, the patient will live with a permanent stoma, or opening in the neck, to breathe. The patient's neck will be smaller and will feel stiff and sore. Speaking and swallowing becomes more difficult. After surgery, in patients with cancer of the larynx, doctors may administer chemotherapy. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer treatment requires the patient to ingest adequate nutrition to help the body heal, even though ingesting enough calories in nutritious foods becomes difficult after the surgery.
During the laryngectomy, the surgeon places a feeding tube in the patient. For the first day or two after the surgery, the patient is given nutrients and fluids through an IV. Health care professionals feed the patient through the feeding tube for about a week. Occasionally, the patient loses weight prior to surgery due to swallowing troubles caused by laryngeal damage or radiation treatment. In this case, the doctor may order the feeding tube to stay in longer to replenish the patient's nutritional depletion. In very rare cases, according to the National Cancer Institute, the patient does not fully regain the ability to swallow and receives food through the feeding tube permanently.
Types of Nutrition Sources in Recovery
Many patients return to a regular diet within a couple weeks of having a laryngectomy. For others, it may be more comfortable to drink liquid meal replacement shakes. Until the patient feels able to eat whole foods, liquid meal replacement drinks provide balanced nutrition. Patients choose from nutrition shakes in a variety of flavors.
Once the patient is ready to begin eating solid foods after her laryngectomy, she should choose a varied and healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. The American Cancer Society recommends a diet low in saturated fats and sodium for a patient after cancer treatment. Because the patient will not be able to smell foods as well after the laryngectomy, her tastes and appetite change. After a laryngectomy, more strongly flavored foods may appeal to the patient more than they did before. Try sauces, gravies, and pungent cheeses as condiments to make foods more appetizing and aid consumption of a varied and nutritious diet.
Do not smoke or drink alcohol after a laryngectomy. Smoking decreases the appetite, complicating the task of taking in enough calories and nutrients. Drinking alcohol irritates the esophagus and digestive system. Smoking and drinking alcohol increase the patient's chances of a cancer recurrencer.