Cancer Treatment - Mucositis / Mouth Sores and Chemotherapy

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to minimize them and provide the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.

What is mucositis?

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Mucositis (also known as stomatitis) is the swelling, irritation, and ulceration of the cells that line the digestive tract. These cells reproduce rapidly and have a shorter life span than other cells in the body. Because chemotherapy agents do not differentiate between healthy cells and cancer cells, they can quickly destroy digestive tract cells, breaking down the protective lining and leaving them inflamed, irritated, and swollen. Mucositis can occur anywhere along the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus, and can be aggravated by nausea and vomiting.

What are the symptoms of mucositis?

The following are the most common symptoms of mucositis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • redness, dryness, or swelling of the mouth
  • burning or discomfort when eating or drinking
  • open sores in the mouth and throat, abdominal cramps, or tenderness
  • rectal redness or ulcers

The symptoms of mucositis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What can be done to manage the symptoms?

Symptoms may occur a week or longer after treatment is completed and may not be preventable. However, there are things you can do to reduce the severity of symptoms and provide some level of comfort. To relieve symptoms of oral mucositis, consider the following:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep your mouth moist.
  • Have someone check your mouth with a flashlight every day to see if any new sores have developed or if existing sores have become worse.
  • Cleanse the mouth after each meal and before bedtime.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and be gentle when brushing your teeth.
  • Do not use mouthwashes with alcohol. Your physician can prescribe a special mouthwash if necessary.
  • Do not eat food that is very hot or very cold.
  • Do not use tobacco products or drink alcohol.
  • If your sores become very painful, your physician may be able to prescribe a solution that will help to numb your mouth, providing comfort to the affected areas.

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