Your doctor may recommend a feeding tube if you have throat cancer and can‘t consume enough nutrients. The length of time may vary depending on the exact reasons for the feeding tube.

Every year, over 200,000 people in the United States with cancer receive essential nutrition and medications through a feeding tube. For people with throat cancer, these feeding tubes can be lifesaving when their mouth and esophagus are too injured or sore to consume food.

Feeding tubes are not without potential risks like infections, and these risks should be weighed against the benefits with your doctor before getting a feeding tube.

Depending on the exact reason for a feeding tube, its placement time can vary. In addition to the information below, you can read more about feeding tubes here.

A feeding tube is typically used when a patient with cancer is unable to digest sufficient nutrients and calories through their mouth.

Some reasons why you might need a feeding tube include the following:

  • tumors are blocking your throat.
  • swallowing is difficult, and you’re unable to consume a sufficient amount of nutrients.
  • your tissues need time to heal after a throat or mouth surgery.
  • extreme nausea and weight loss occur from the cancer or treatments.

Your overall health and body’s response to cancer treatments will determine whether a feeding tube is necessary when you have throat cancer.

In addition to preventing malnourishment, a feeding tube may be used to build up your general health before, during, and after treatments.

Feeding tubes are often placed as temporary support, but they can be used on a more permanent basis.

Share on Pinterest
Douglas Cliff/Getty Images

Your doctor will consider your treatment and overall health needs when deciding when to place a feeding tube and for how long.

If you do need more long-term feeding support, a 2018 study found that percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tubes, when inserted into the abdomen, had a 68.5% chance of lasting 5 years without needing a replacement. And 95.1% of the PEG tubes studied were still functional after 1 year.

Risks associated with the placement of the feeding tube include:

  • nausea and vomiting from the medications used while it’s being placed
  • excessive bleeding
  • infection

Once a doctor places a feeding tube, there’s a chance you may experience:

  • a clogged feeding tube
  • an infection or pain at the insertion site
  • gastrointestinal distress (i.e., diarrhea, constipation, or nausea)
  • leakage at the insertion site of contents from the stomach

PEG tubes have the potential to improve life expectancy and quality of life for people with head and neck cancer. But, especially in older people or those with terminal cancers, it’s important to weigh the benefits of nutritional support with the potential for patient discomfort.

Some studies show that placement of a PEG is successful in more than 95% of patients with cancer, even when they’ve had previous abdominal surgery.

Various life expectancies have been reported in patients with cancer after the placement of a feeding tube.

One study from 2013 involving 218 patients found a median survival rate of roughly 10 months and a 30-day mortality rate of 13%. This means that, on average, people receiving a feeding tube lived for about 10 months and within 30 days, about 13% of those in the study had passed away.

Some factors that may affect your life expectancy include:

  • your age and overall health
  • how your body responds to treatment
  • the stage of the cancer when you received a diagnosis and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body

It’s important to remember that every individual will have a unique throat cancer and feeding tube experience. Your doctor is in the best position to answer any questions you might have about how a feeding tube may affect your life expectancy and quality of life.

Your doctor may recommend a feeding tube if you have trouble swallowing food or your throat tissues need a chance to heal after throat cancer surgery. A feeding tube may also be used as a way to supply your body with extra nutrients if you’re losing a lot weight during treatment.

When recommending a feeding tube, your doctor will weigh the risks of a feeding tube with its potential benefits. Your doctor can also answer any questions you may have about using a feeding tube, including the length of time you may need one.