Mouth Sores (Mucositis), ASCO's curriculum

This section has been reviewed and approved by the PLWC Editorial Board, 05/05

Mucositis is inflammation of the inside of the mouth and throat that can lead to painful ulcers and mouth sores. It occurs in up to 40% of people receiving chemotherapy. Mucositis can be caused by the following:

  • Some types of chemotherapy
  • A decrease in the functioning of the immune system, brought on by chemotherapy
  • Radiation treatment to the head and neck area
  • Graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD). In people who have received a bone marrow transplant, mucositis can be a sign of GVHD, which is when the donated blood cells attack the body's tissue.

Managing mucositis

The best way to manage mucositis is to prevent it before it starts or to treat it early. Oral cryotherapy, which involves the sucking on ice chips just before and during each chemotherapy treatment, may reduce the occurrence of mucositis caused by certain types of chemotherapy, such as fluorouracil (5-FU) injections. For treating mucositis, local anesthetics (creams that dull pain) or analgesics (drugs that treat pain, such as aspirin) may be helpful. Other drugs to treat or prevent mucositis are currently under investigation.

It is also wise to make extra effort to take care of your mouth during cancer treatment. The following suggestions may help:

  • Brush your teeth gently with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss gently.
  • Rinse or gargle with a solution of saltwater and baking soda (1/2 teaspoon of salt plus 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water).
  • Remove dentures.
  • Choose foods that require little or no chewing.
  • Avoid acidic, spicy, salty, coarse, or dry foods.

People receiving radiation treatment to the head and neck should see a dentist before beginning treatment because the dentist may be able to help preserve teeth and prevent infection.

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