A common side effect of chemotherapy and some head and neck radiation treatment is oral mucositis – painful mouth ulcers and inflammation in the mouth. In fact, oral mucositis is one of the most common side effects experienced by cancer patients when undergoing chemotherapy, but it is frequently under-reported and can lead to high morbidity and complication rates.
Diane (not her real name), a cancer patient preparing for her second round of chemotherapy says that the she dreads the mouth ulcers and found them to be one of the biggest side effects from her treatment.
These sores can have a significant impact on person’s quality of life. They can cause severe discomfort and can impair a person’s ability to eat, swallow or even talk.
Oral mucositis generally develops five to 10 days after the initial treatment, and can last anywhere from one week to six weeks or more.
Mucositis occurs when cancer treatments break down the rapidly divided epithelial cells lining the gastro-intestinal tract, leaving the mucosal tissue open to the development of ulcers and infection. More specifically, chemotherapy can cause mucositis to develop due to the low white blood cell count; and radiation can cause mucositis to develop due to the inflammatory effect of the radiation energy on the oral membranes (mucosa).
The most serious cases of mucositis can lead to a number of associated health complications. Of particular concern is that mouth ulcers can become infected with bacteria. The infection can spread to the blood and then on to other organs, and can lead to the development of sepsis which can be life-threatening.
Some of the signs and symptoms of mucositis include5:
- Red, shiny, or swollen mouth and gums
- Blood in the mouth
- Sores in the mouth or on the gums or tongue
- Soreness or pain in the mouth or throat
- Difficulty swallowing or talking
- Feeling of dryness, mild burning, or pain when eating food
- Soft, whitish patches or pus in the mouth or on the tongue
- Increased mucus or thicker saliva in the mouth
Below are some factors that can increase the likelihood of developing mucositis, or risk factors that can make it worse if it does occur, include5:
- Poor oral or dental health.
- Smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol.
- Gender (females appear to be more likely than males to develop mucositis)
- Low body mass index.
- Diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes or HIV/AIDS.
- Previous cancer treatment.
While you may not be able to stop mucositis from occurring, there are steps you can take before beginning radiation or chemotherapy treatment to help alleviate its side effects and symptoms.
In many cases your doctor may recommend you visit a dentist who specialises in oncology patients. A good oral care regimen can help prevent or decrease the severity of mucositis, and can also reduce the change of infection from open mouth sores. There are a number of strategies adopted by oncologists to minimize the adverse effects of cancer therapy such as dose reduction, and other preventive treatment options. A review of clinical studies showed that there are ice chips, antibiotics and Benzydamine containing oral solutions are a few options to help relieve the symptoms1.
The Andolex range and products, available from leading pharmacies, are known to provide relief for patients suffering from a sore throat, mouth or gums6. The Andolex-C range includes Andolex C Spray, Andolex C Oral Rinse as well as Andolex C Oral Gel. The Andolex C Oral Gel contains Benzydamine HCL and Cetylpyridinium which provides a 4 in 1 effect for fast, effective relief.
Furthermore, Andolex C Oral Gel helps to provide relief from mouth ulcers or sores, sore gums or from irritation due to oral mucositis, with its effective local anaesthetic action. The gel also provides analgesic relief and is easy to apply.
Speak to your doctor, pharmacist or specialist about ways to alleviate the discomfort of oral mucositis or go to www.andolex.co.za for more information.