A sore or dry mouth and throat is common during treatment and after many cancer treatments.
The sensitivity of damaged or dry lips or mouth lining can make everyday activities less enjoyable and the symptoms can lead to an aversion to eating certain foods or hot or cold drinks, enjoying meals and overall general satisfaction. Soreness and ulceration of the mouth lining is known as mucositis or xerostomia and can be very painful.
The good thing is that damage to the lining of the mouth is usually temporary and most side effects will disappear once you finish treatment and your white blood cell count returns to normal. The likelihood of developing a sore mouth varies and can depend on the treatment you are having. The risk is higher for people who receive anti-cancer medicines as well as radiation therapy to the head and neck area.
What is mucositis and xerostomia?
Mucositis occurs when cancer treatments damage the cells lining your mouth or other parts of the gastrointestinal tract (gut). This can cause pain, sores and ulcers in the mouth and throat. Chemotherapy can cause mucositis anywhere in the gut. Radiotherapy only causes mucositis in the area where the radiotherapy is given. Mucositis affects the GI tract so can lead to oesophagitis and stomatitis. Mucositis usually gets better a few weeks to months after the end of treatment. Talk with your Bloomhill nurse or treating team if this is affecting you.
Xerostomia is having a dry mouth. It happens when cancer treatment damages the salivary glands, so they make less saliva (spit). Xerostomia caused by radiation therapy to the head and neck area can last for months after treatment and can be permanent in some patients. It is very important to keep your mouth clean.
Tips to minimizing symptoms.
These are just some suggestions but chat with a nurse or pharmacy for further guidance.
- A soft toothbrush is advisable and keeping the mouth clean and moist – drinking well and using products if you are able can help and can be purchased from a chemist.
- Use a lip balm – something like paw paw or Vaseline can help and is inexpensive and there are a range of other products available.
- Using a mirror, check the inside of your mouth each day for sore, redo or white areas or bleeding.
- Check and fix any dental problems before you start treatment. Speak to your dentist about having planned treatment.
- Avoid harsh products containing alcohol, spices, acids or sour juices. Limit very hot and very cold drinks and foods.
- Other products that can assist in symptoms include Biotene, Oral7 (p.s. your Bloomhill nurse may have samples, please chat to the team) or Denta Med.
It is important to note that some symptoms can indicate other complications. Please contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you:
- have a temperature of 38°C or higher
- have uncontrolled pain
- are unable to eat or drink
- are bleeding from the mouth
- have difficulty opening your mouth or swallowing
- have white spots in your mouth
- are coughing a lot when eating or drinking If you can’t contact your doctor or nurse, go to the nearest hospital emergency department for help.
All information provided by Bloomhill is based on research and best practice guidelines. Our model of care utilizes the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) domains of wellness along with available clinical evidence. Always consult your care team regarding matters that affect your health. This is a guide intended for information only.