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Palliative management of cancer of the oesophagus – opportunities for dietetic intervention

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Cancer of the oesophagus develops insidiously and when patients present with symptoms such as dysphagia to solids/semi-solids and in some cases liquids, the disease is often advanced and patients are frequently poorly nourished and cachectic ( Angorn, 1981; Larrea, 1992). In our own unit we were aware that patients were only referred to the dietitian once an oesophageal stent was inserted or radiotherapy commenced, thereby possibly missing opportunities to treat or prevent malnutrition earlier. We therefore evaluated the nutritional status and care pathways of patients diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in whom palliative treatment was the only option, with the aim of assessing the extent of malnutrition and identifying opportunities for earlier dietetic intervention to prevent or slow the development of malnutrition. Method:

Data were collated on all patients referred to the hospital's dysphagia clinic and diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the oesophagus. Height, weight, body mass index, degree of dysphagia, period of dysphagia, percentage weight loss (data collected as standard practice in the dysphagia clinic) and time to stent insertion/radiotherapy and survival time was collected from the medical notes. Results:

Data were available on 58 patients, 33 male, 25 female, mean age 75 years (range 49–92 years). The mean length of survival was 10.2 months (0–24 months). At diagnosis, 47% experienced dysphagia with solids, 33% with semi-solids and 16% experienced a degree of dysphagia with liquids. The period of dysphagia was 1 month to 2 years. Eighty-three per cent of patients had lost weight at diagnosis. Mean percentage weight loss per individual was 13% (range 0–45%). Thirty-five per cent had a BMI <20 kg/m2. Median time from diagnosis to radiotherapy (n = 8) was 2 months with range, 1–6 months. Median time from diagnosis to the placement of the oesophageal stent (n = 12) was 1 month with range, 0–7 months. Discussion:

These data illustrate that malnutrition remains a significant problem in this patient group. These results demonstrate that dysphagia and malnutrition, as indicated by weight loss, is developing in the community before diagnosis. Opportunities for earlier dietetic intervention exist between diagnosis and date at which other treatments commence, i.e. stent insertion. Further opportunities exist to educate community health professionals on treating and preventing malnutrition when dysphagia presents. Survival times support the need for dietetic follow-up. In our unit the results of this audit helped to improve care pathways for patients with cancer of the oesophagus. In response to the above findings, a nutritional screening tool is now completed by a nurse specialist at the first clinic attended. This has enabled appropriate and timely advice to be given on modified texture and fortification of food to optimize nutritional intake at diagnosis.

Document Type: Abstract


Affiliations: 1: Nutrition and Dietetic Services 2: Department of Gastroenterology, Royal United Hospital, Bath, UK

Publication date: 2003-10-01

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