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A Helping Hand

Taking control of eating problems with tube feeding


A nasogastric tube or a "dobhoff tube" is a small, thin tube that is inserted through the nose and down into the stomach or small intestine. A gastrostomy (or "PEG") tube or a jejunostomy (or "J") tube is placed surgically and is often used when feedings are going to be required for two months or more. All these tubes are temporary and are removed when they are no longer needed.

By Nancy Burke, R.D., Joan Daniels, R.D., and Danielle Karsies, R.D., M.S.; University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center Dietitians

Think of any celebration, and the first thing that probably comes to mind is food. The aroma, taste and texture of food give us pleasure and satisfaction -- but cancer and its treatment can temporarily interfere with our ability to enjoy it.

Some people with cancer may experience loss of appetite or taste. Others may not be able to eat because of a blockage or pain when swallowing. No one wants to give up eating, but when it becomes more of a hindrance or a burden, a feeding tube may offer relief. In fact, we've found that many people who opt for tube-feeding say that they wished they had done so sooner, as they feel better overall, more energetic and less burdened by not having to force themselves to eat.

Tube-feeding should not be thought of as defeat or failure; it's a temporary way to help you regain control. It can be a shortcut to getting the food, fluid and medications your body needs. Tube-feeding may reduce the need for hydration infusions and decrease the number of pills you need to take if medications can be administered via the feeding tube.

If you are losing weight rapidly, don't put off having a feeding tube placed. Waiting until you have lost a significant amount of weight only leads to possible postponed treatments and longer recovery time. Be proactive and ask your doctor if a feeding tube is right for you. A registered dietitian will develop a nutrition prescription for the type and amount of formula that is needed to meet your nutrition goals and promote optimal nutrition status.

Having a feeding tube placed should not hinder you from living your normal life. You can continue to participate in your favorite hobbies and activities. Also, if it's pleasurable and medically feasible, you can supplement your nutrition by eating while on tube-feedings.

Feedings can be given many different ways: Some people use feeding tubes at regular meal times to maintain family routines; others use a portable feeding pump that they carry in a backpack to provide gradual feedings in 24-hour increments.

Maintaining good nutrition is essential to maintaining overall strength and well-being, and to minimizing recovery time. Tube-feeding can help you focus on the things you love, rather than worries about eating.

Read the Fall, 2011 issue of Thrive.

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Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2011