Why might people get mouth sores from cancer treatment? — Mouth sores are a common side effect of a cancer treatment called chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
Not everyone who is treated with chemotherapy will get mouth sores. It depends on the chemotherapy medicines and doses you get. When mouth sores happen, they usually start shortly after the chemotherapy starts. They are often worst about 1 week after the chemotherapy starts.
Another cancer treatment, called radiation therapy, can also cause mouth sores. Mouth sores happen only when people are treated with radiation to their head or neck. Mouth sores usually happen within the first 2 to 3 weeks of radiation therapy.
What are the symptoms of mouth sores from cancer treatment? — Mouth sores usually start as red areas or a burning feeling in the mouth. The sores can then become raised white patches and, later on, open sores that are often painful. Mouth sores can also cause a sore throat.
A person's symptoms can be mild or severe. Some people have mouth and throat sores that are very painful. This can cause trouble swallowing and make it too painful to eat or drink.
Can mouth sores be prevented? — To help prevent mouth sores, see your dentist before you start cancer treatment. He or she can check your teeth and do any dental work you need.
In some cases, people can lower their chance of getting mouth sores if they chew ice chips right before their chemotherapy.
Doctors are studying other ways to prevent mouth sores. Your doctor might recommend a medicine or procedure before your cancer treatment starts. This is likely if you are getting a bone marrow transplant, a treatment used in some cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
What can I do on my own to manage my mouth sores? — To help reduce symptoms and help your mouth sores heal, you can:
Change your diet – Try to avoid spicy, salty, or dry foods, or foods with sharp edges (like chips) that could cut your mouth. You should also avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Keep your mouth clean – Rinse out your mouth with water each time after you eat.
Keep your dentures clean – Remove and clean your dentures often.
Use a soft toothbrush or foam swab (if they don't hurt you) to clean your teeth
See your dentist for regular follow-ups
What other treatments can help? — Your doctor can prescribe other treatments to help with your symptoms. These can include:
A special mouth rinse or mouthwash – These have medicines in them that can numb and coat the sores.
Strong pain medicines
Medicines to treat an infected mouth sore – Sometimes, mouth sores get infected.
If you can't eat or drink because of your mouth sores, you might need to get fluids or nutrition through a thin tube that goes into your vein, called an "IV."
When will my mouth sores get better? — In most cases, mouth sores get better within a few days.
When should I call my doctor or nurse? — Call your doctor or nurse if your pain is so severe that you are having trouble eating or drinking.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 87048 Version 4.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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