Are Mouth Sores a Side Effect of Chemotherapy?
As with any medical treatment, chemotherapy has different effects on different people. Depending on which drug or drugs are administered, where they are applied, dosage, and what kind of cancer they’re targeting, these chemicals can lead to a wide variety of side effects, most of which are quite unpleasant for patients. Some of these are well-known – the loss of hair (alopecia), nausea, changes in appetite – while others receive less attention, though they can be just as painful and disruptive to quality of life. In fact, one of the most debilitating side effects of many chemotherapies is the development of sores in the mouth, a condition known as oral mucositis.
What is the link between mouth sores and chemotherapy, what are the causes, and is there any way to help relieve oral mucositis symptoms? Keep reading as the team at Chemo Mouthpiece™ answers those very questions.
What Causes Mouth Sores After Chemotherapy?
The drugs used in chemotherapy treatments are selected specifically for their ability to target and destroy the fast-growing cells found in cancerous tissue. At this, chemo drugs can be very effective, but in their zeal, they often attack other areas of the body where cells rapidly divide – healthy areas, such as the mouth, hair, nails, and bone marrow. The collateral damage of these drugs’ war on cancer is damage to these otherwise healthy areas of the body, which is what causes the terrible side effects associated with chemotherapy.
When these toxic chemicals reach the vulnerable mucous membranes in the mouth, they begin to break down the tissue, causing the painful sores, bleeding, and inflammation that many patients experience. While ranging in severity, these symptoms together constitute oral mucositis, an incapacitating condition that can lead to any number of complications ranging from inconvenient to life-threatening. Up to 40% of patients undergoing chemo will face some level of oral mucositis symptoms; for high-dose chemotherapy patients, that number can be as high as 80%. (Source)
Treating the Symptoms of Oral Mucositis
A number of over-the-counter and homemade remedies supposedly offer relief from oral mucositis, though the efficacy of these products is often questionable at best. The most common treatment used by mucositis sufferers is a mouthwash aimed at reducing pain and inflammation while keeping the mouth clean and fighting any possible infections. Some patients use simple saltwater for this, though a mouthwash made with baking soda can be effective as well.
More powerful OTC mouthwashes are available at local drugstores, though these tend to be about as effective as the homemade washes for most patients. Other popular products include things like oral gels or homemade baking soda salves that can be applied directly to sores to reduce pain. Each of these options may provide some amount of aid to patients, but the simple fact remains that they are only helpful after the symptoms of oral mucositis have appeared. In other words, they make it easier to deal with the problem but do little to actually prevent it.
Methods to Prevent Mouth Sores from Occurring After Chemotherapy
Though no method yet exists to completely prevent the emergence of oral mucositis after chemotherapy, patients do have a way to limit its severity before the symptoms appear. The principle behind this prevention is known as “cryotherapy,” the application of cold temperatures to cause a reaction in the body. This is the same principle that leads athletes to take ice water baths, and it’s the reason you might slap a bag of frozen peas over your black eye to reduce the pain and swelling. When used to fight oral mucositis, however, the goal is different.
The reason why doctors and nurses distribute ice chips and popsicles to patients receiving chemotherapy infusions is not to reduce swelling but to shrink the blood vessels in the mouth (in much the same way that they shrink when you eat ice cream too fast and experience brain freeze). By causing these blood vessels to constrict (vasoconstriction), a patient can limit the chemo drugs’ access to the sensitive tissues of the mouth; because oral mucositis is caused by the presence of these toxic chemicals, limiting the amount circulating through your mouth can drastically reduce oral mucositis severity, pain, and discomfort.
Unfortunately, ice chips and popsicles are imperfect vehicles for cryotherapy, since they only reach certain areas of the mouth, leaving much of the cheeks and roof of the mouth vulnerable. They are also intolerable by many with sensitive teeth. Instead, patients may want to try the full-mouth cool provided by the Chemo Mouthpiece™, a dedicated intraoral ice pack for mouth sores. This simple, easy-to-use device lowers the temperature of the entire oral cavity by as much as 30 degrees over a half-hour chemotherapy treatment. Don’t rely on bits of ice to fight your mucositis symptoms; try Chemo Mouthpiece™ today.
Oral Ice Pack for Fighting Mouth Ulcers Caused by Chemotherapy
If you or someone you know is plagued by mouth sores while battling cancer, know that help is available. Don’t resign yourself to the pain of oral mucositis; let the Chemo Mouthpiece™ keep the worst of your symptoms at bay, or potentially prevent them from forming at all. To learn more about how this one simple medical device for mouth sores can improve your quality of life as you undergo chemotherapy treatments, visit us online or call (866) 461-7518 today.