Can You Die from Oral Mucositis Caused by Chemo?
Patients who are diagnosed with cancer find themselves constantly under siege by their illness, but also by the side effects that come along with their treatments. Both chemotherapy and radiation are known to cause a variety of unpleasant reactions in the body, from the instantly recognizable hair loss (alopecia), nausea, mouth sores, nerve pain, and other side effects that can have detrimental effects on a patient’s quality of life. One of the most debilitating of these effects is the appearance of oral mucositis, a condition characterized by mouth sores, bleeding, inflammation, trouble swallowing and intense pain. But can you die from oral mucositis, and is there a device to relieve oral mucositis symptoms? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions.
What is Oral Mucositis?
The drugs chosen for chemotherapy treatments operate by targeting cells that rapidly divide, which makes them quite effective at seeking out and destroying fast-growing cancer tissues. Unfortunately, these chemicals also damage any healthy tissue that exhibits a similar rate of cell division, such as those in the mouth, hair, nails, and bone marrow – collateral damage in the war against cancer.
The consequence of these treatments for your mouth’s mucous membranes can be particularly nasty: these vulnerable tissues break down, leading to the formation of painful lesions along the cheeks, tongue, and soft palate of the mouth, as well as inflammation, bleeding, and a lack of saliva. This ailment, known as oral mucositis, affects as many as 40% of patients receiving standard chemotherapy, and up to 80% of those undergoing high-dose chemo treatments. (Source)
Can Oral Mucositis Be Fatal?
While the symptoms of oral mucositis can be debilitating for many patients, this condition is not typically fatal; the pain and bleeding that come along with it may give the impression of a life-threatening ailment, but for most patients, these symptoms are simply a difficult obstacle to be overcome in the course of their battle with cancer. That being said, there is certainly the potential for oral mucositis to lead to something much more serious.
One of the most concerning aspects of mucositis is that it leaves the mouth vulnerable to infections. Any open wound could provide an opening for a virus, fungus, or bacteria to take hold, and those in the mouth are no different. In fact, your mouth may be even more susceptible to infection than other areas of your body, in large part because of the fact that foreign objects – food and beverages – are constantly being introduced to the environment.
It should also be noted that saliva plays an important role in the prevention of oral infections; because the salivary glands and mucous membranes are affected by the chemo drugs, patients often experience a lack of saliva (also called dry mouth or xerostomia) which can further reduce their defense against infection.
The final factor to consider is the status of the immune system. Patients who undergo chemo or radiation treatments often experience damage to their bone marrow, the part of the body that produces red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Without the right amount of these cells – and of white blood cells in particular – your body might not have adequate defenses to ward off infection.
A 2008 study looked at the chances of various complications related to oral mucositis and found that a one-point increase in severity (oral mucositis is typically judged on a scale of 0-4) is associated with more than two additional days of IV nutrition, narcotic painkillers, and overall hospitalization; one extra day of fever; more than double the risk of serious infection; and an almost four-fold increase in a patient’s 100-day mortality risk. The sum total of these complications can cost upwards of $25,000 – and that’s in addition to the already significant costs related to cancer treatments and general care.
Preventing Oral Mucositis Through Cryotherapy
Although oral mucositis caused by chemotherapy may not be deadly in and of itself, the condition can still put patients at a greater risk of serious complications that could ultimately prove fatal. For this reason, and for the financial impact of oral mucositis, patients should try to avoid the worst of the symptoms proactively.
Today, the best method of potentially preventing or at least limiting the severity of mouth sores after chemo is through cryotherapy, the application of freezing temperatures to the body’s tissues. By lowering the temperature of the oral cavity, the blood vessels in the area are forced to shrink, thereby reducing the flow of chemo drugs to the area during treatment and preventing the worst of the damage they would otherwise inflict.
Oncology nurses and doctors often use ice chips or popsicles to apply these cold temperatures to the inside of the mouth, but neither option is especially effective at cooling all areas of the mouth. The Chemo Mouthpiece™, on the other hand, can lower the temperature of the entire oral cavity by as much as 30 degrees over the course of treatment, making it a potent weapon against oral mucositis.
Oral Ice Pack for Fighting Mucositis Symptoms After Chemotherapy
If you’ve tried using ice chips to prevent your oral mucositis and found the results to be less than impressive or suffered from tooth sensitivity or nausea, consider the Chemo Mouthpiece™ instead. This innovative easy-to-use device can accompany you to your next treatment and provide extensive cooling power during chemotherapy. To learn more about how the Chemo Mouthpiece™ can help you or a loved one, visit us online or call (866) 461-7518 today.