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What Causes Mouth Sores After Chemo?

Find out how patients are finding relief from oral mucositis caused by chemotherapy

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What Causes Mouth Sores After Chemo?

Mouth sores may seem like a relatively minor concern for someone who is battling cancer, but the reality for many patients is that these ulcers – and the complications that can follow them – are among the most painful and debilitating effects many patients will experience. These sores, part of a condition called oral mucositis, can make it difficult for a patient to chew or swallow, and they can be vulnerable to serious infections that can put a person’s health at an even greater risk. But how do these mouth sores form after chemo, and is there any way to stop them? Keep reading as the experts at Chemo Mouthpiece™ address these questions and more.

The Effects of Chemotherapy Drugs on the Mouth

It’s no secret that the drugs used in chemotherapy treatments can be devastating. This is because the medications used in chemo are specially selected for their ability to hunt down and destroy the kinds of fast-dividing cells found in tumors; unfortunately, they also tend to target healthy tissues that exhibit the same behavior. Hair, nails, bone marrow, and mucous membranes are all vulnerable to the predations of chemotherapy.

The effects on these otherwise healthy cells vary from site to site: hair falls out and fingernails fall off, but what about the tissue that stays in place? In the case of the mouth’s mucous membranes, the tissue breaks down when the chemotherapy drugs reach the oral cavity, causing the sores, bleeding, and inflammation that characterize oral mucositis. As many as 40% of patients subjected to standard chemo treatments will develop this ailment, as well as up to 80% of patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy. (Source)

Higher grades of oral mucositis can lead to malnutrition in patients who suddenly find it difficult or impossible to eat, and any open sores in the mouth can become infected. Either of these complications can be disastrous for patients whose immune systems have been ravaged by chemo and radiation and who need to maintain their health and nutrition as best they can. Often hospitalization is necessary in order to supply the patient with nutrients intravenously.

A 2008 study published in the journal Dental Clinics of North America found that an increase in the severity of oral mucositis can lead to extra days of fever, IV nutrition, narcotic painkillers, and hospitalization, not to mention a 2.1-times higher chance of developing a bad infection and an almost four-fold increase in a patient’s 100-day mortality risk. In all, the additional cost of fighting your mucositis can be as high as $25,000 over the course of a treatment regimen.

How Do I Treat Mouth Sores Caused by Chemotherapy?

Patients have a few options for treating the symptoms of oral mucositis once they arrive, but the results of these products tend to be limited at best. Mouthwashes made with salt or baking soda – or both – dissolved in water can reduce pain and stave off infection in the short term, plus it can help to keep the mouth from drying out. Medicated versions of these mouthwashes are likely available at a nearby drugstore, as are oral gels that can be applied directly to the sores to numb the pain they produce.

However, all of these treatments are limited in their ability to fight mucositis, largely because by the time they are applied to the mouth, the chemo drugs have already finished their work. The mucous membranes have already been broken down; the sores have already formed. Even if the pain can be reduced for a time, some traces of the mucositis’ effects will still remain. It stands to reason, then, that preventative measures would seem to be a superior option to reactive ones; by preventing the worst of the mucositis symptoms from ever forming, treatments become irrelevant and relief becomes the new normal.

Oral Mucositis Symptoms and Cryotherapy

Though there is not yet a surefire way to prevent oral mucositis entirely, cryotherapy – the application of freezing or near-freezing temperatures to treat the body – has proven to be an effective method of fighting this ailment. In fact, it’s the reason why nurses and doctors provide ice chips to their patients during chemo treatments: By freezing the mouth, the blood vessels shrink (vasoconstriction), which in turn allows less of the chemotherapy drug to reach sensitive tissues as it circulates through the body. A recent study found cryotherapy to be effective at this.

Unfortunately, the use of ice chips and popsicles has proven to be an unreliable means of applying cryotherapy to the whole mouth, which makes sense; small bits of ice can hardly reach the entire oral cavity, making them imperfect tools for this type of treatment. To fix this issue, engineer and cancer survivor David Yoskowitz invented the Chemo Mouthpiece™, an intraoral ice pack that cools your entire mouth uniformly over the course of your chemotherapy treatment. It’s easy to use, too: just freeze it at home before your next round of chemo and bring it with you to the cancer center, then hold it in your mouth as the drugs are infused into your system.

Cryotherapy Device for Helping Chemo Patients with Mouth Sores

Through the power of our oral cryotherapy device, cancer patients can now mitigate the worst of their oral mucositis symptoms before they appear. The Chemo Mouthpiece™ is specially designed to improve upon existing techniques used around the country to bring greater relief to patients suffering from oral mucositis. To learn more about our product and how it can help you or someone you love, visit us online or call (866) 461-7518 today.


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