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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer CenterVanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center


Tube Feeding Facts

What happens if a cancer patient is still unable to eat and drink enough during treatment?

Sometimes cancer patients undergoing treatment are unable to eat and drink enough to keep from becoming dehydrated or undernourished. When this happens it is necessary for the patient to receive a nutritional formula with a tube feeding. Many patients do not like the thought of having to have a tube feeding and this is probably because they do not understand much about them, which can be a source of fear. The general public has a negative view of tube feedings and many patients believe that the need for a tube feeding means that they are not doing well or that they have failed to try hard enough. This could not be further from the truth. A tube feeding is just another form of therapy to be used to keep the patient as healthy as possible during treatment. Remaining as healthy as possible enables the patient to stay stronger, to tolerate treatment more easily, to prevent cancer-related complications, and to recover from treatments much faster. It also takes the pressure off of the patient who knows he or she must eat and drink more each day but is just not able to. After having a tube inserted, patients are able to relax and not worry about struggling to stay well nourished. Most patients and their families are very happy after their tubes have been placed.

Here are some tube feeding facts of interest:

  • The procedure to put in a tube feeding is not complicated or time consuming and does not require anesthesia.
  • The tube itself cannot be seen under clothes and no one has to know that it is there.
  • The tube is placed into the stomach and part of it shows outside the abdomen above the belly button.
  • A liquid formula and water are poured into the tube 4 to 5 times per day. Some patients are even able to take in a little food and liquids in their mouths.
  • A tube feeding may only be temporary and can be used for as long as the patient needs it.
  • Removing the tube is very simple and takes place in the doctor’s office. The opening where the tube was will close and heal very quickly.
  • Patients who have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant generally do not receive nutrition through a tube feeding. These patients receive their nutrition through an IV.