Having some or all of your stomach removed to take out cancer, in a surgery called gastrectomy, means that you’ll have to take extra care about not only what you eat and drink, but also when you eat and drink.
Gastric cancer surgery also is life-changing. And though it may take a year or two, your body will adjust to not having a stomach.
Just after your surgery, you’ll spend about 5 days in the hospital recovering. Until you’re back to eating through your mouth, you may get nutrients through an IV that goes into a vein, or through a tube that goes into your abdomen.
You’ll likely be able to start a liquid diet several days after surgery and move to a light diet about a week after surgery.
How You’ll Handle Food
Normally, your stomach holds food and kicks off digestion. Foods then pass from the stomach to the duodenum, the first part of your small intestine. If these things don’t happen, food isn’t digested as well.
Also, if the valve that controls how food exits your stomach into your small intestine is removed, food will pass through your system quicker and you won’t absorb as many nutrients as before.
As you recover, you’ll probably find that a smaller or absent stomach means that you feel full faster. Your body may process some foods differently. Sugar, for example, can cause something called dumping syndrome, where extra water is drawn into your stomach or small intestine and food speeds through your digestive system.
Dos and Don’ts
There are changes you can make to ease the transition.
- Rather than eating three meals a day, split your food into smaller, more frequent meals.
- Chew your food well and eat slowly.
- Drink plenty of fluids (eight to ten 8-ounce glasses per day), but try not to drink too much during or around mealtime. Cut out carbonated drinks like soda.
- When the time comes, add sugar, fats, and dairy back slowly. These may cause problems you didn’t have before surgery.
- Don’t eat a lot of fiber. It can make you full and uncomfortable.
- Try to keep a food diary. It can help you figure out patterns and lessen problems.
- Focus on foods that are high-calorie, nutrient-dense, and low in sugar.
If your entire stomach has been removed, you will probably need regular injections of vitamin B12. But if you’ve had only part of it removed, choose foods high in iron, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin D. Blood tests can help you and your doctor know if your nutrition is on point.