Feeding for children with cancer
Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other treatments can cause children to struggle with the volumes of food that they need to eat.
Treatments may make them feel sick, alter their sense of taste, or make swallowing uncomfortable. Hospital food is also not always to everyone’s taste, and being away from home can also mean children feel able to eat less.
High energy snacks, small frequent meals and meal supplementation may be tried to encourage calorie intake.
However, if your child is becoming distressed by eating or is not managing to maintain their weight, they may find it better to have a nasogastric (NG) tube or PEG fitted to help them receive supplemental feeding through.
Nasogastric (NG) tubes are thin, soft tubes that are passed through your child’s nostril, down their throat and food pipe into the stomach. Once inserted, they remain in place, held by tape on your child's cheek.
The benefits of these tubes are that children can receive feed directly into their stomach when they feel unable to eat. If a child is nauseated (feeling sick), often, this is done slowly over night whilst they sleep.
Nasogastric tubes also have the added positive that most oral medications can be put down them as well, meaning children do not need to take unpleasant taking solutions by mouth. Occasionally, some children find their oral medications so hard to take that they opt to have an NG tube simply to take medications. It may also be offered for feeding if your child has problems with sucking and swallowing.
Inserting the tube is usually quick and it goes down quite easily if your child remains relaxed. It doesn’t hurt, but it is a bit uncomfortable when being passed. Once in place however, it is something most children get used to very quickly and provides many benefits. Adequate nutrition is so important to children fighting cancer, and an NG tube can help provide it.
Gastrostomy feeding devices (PEGS)
These are devices that are inserted via a small incision into your child’s stomach. They are often used if your child has been reliant on a nasogastric tube for a while and is likely to need a feeding tube in the long term.
Gastrostomy devices are also used in children who have tumours on their face, or neck.
Often, treatment of these tumours (including radiation) can make the area unsuitable or uncomfortable to have nasogastric tubes passed. As such, these children are usually given a gastrostomy feeding device rather than a nasogastric tube.
There are a number of different gastrostomy devices available. Typically however, when first fitted, the PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) consists of a tube that is held in place by a disk sat in the stomach. In time, this can then be replaced with a balloon device (button or tube) which is a little less bulky. The procedure is usually carried out in theatre under a general anaesthetic (when your child is asleep).
Your child’s team will talk through the best options with you should your child need help with feeding.
- Investigations that my child with cancer may undergo
- Vascular access for children with cancer
- Treatments that my child with cancer may undergo
- Participating in clinical trials
- Other useful charity resources, support groups and website links
Content reviewed July 2021