Feeding Tube Placement

Katrina Claghorn, MS, RD
Last Modified: July 8, 2002

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
My 73 y.o. father has Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the lymph Node on his neck. He had radiation treatments, which brought his weight down. The Doctor now says the cancer is spreading to his jawbone. He is scheduled now for surgery. He will have a feeding tube following surgery. What are the best nutrients I can ask the Doctor to prescribe for his tube feeding ingredients?  
Thank you for your help.

Katrina Claghorn, MS, RD, registered dietitian at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Sometimes surgery or treatment may impact a patient's ability to eat. A feeding tube is placed so that the patient's nutritional needs can be met by delivering nutrients into the stomach or small intestine. It would appear that your father's doctors recognize that his surgery will make eating difficult for some time after his surgery. Also, the surgery is probably quite extensive and will impose greater nutrient needs.

After the tube is placed, your father should be assessed by a registered dietitian or a nurse who specializes in nutrition. They will calculate his nutritional needs to determine the amount of calories, protein and fluids he will need. They will also decide what type of tube feeding formula will be most appropriate for him and how much of the formula he will need each day. Tube feeding nutritional products are formulated to provide all the nutrients your father will need including vitamins and minerals.

The tube that will be used to deliver the feedings is very narrow. Commercial tube feeding formulas are formulated so that they will not clog the tube because they are not too thick and do not leave a residue in the tube. To help maintain the patency of the tube you will be instructed to flush the tube with water before and after feedings with water. We discourage putting noncommercial formulas or foods through the tube since there is a greater likelihood they will contribute to clogging.

Your father's medical team will be able to answer your questions about the feeding tube, so be sure to let them know your concerns.