Prevention and Treatments for Mucositis

Mucositis Can Be an Added Problem for People With Breast Cancer

Mouth Sores
Mouth Sores. Credit: Illustration @ A.D.A.M.

Chemotherapy-induced mucositis is a condition where your mucous membranes become inflamed. These are tissues that line your digestive system all the way from your mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and rectum to your anus. Mucositis is caused when chemotherapy attacks and kills the rapidly dividing cells in your mucous membranes. This condition can feel like sunburn or heartburn on your mucous tissues and often leads to painful or irritating sores in your mouth or on your tongue.

It is a common side effect of chemotherapy for breast cancer that can be an increasing burden when you're undergoing treatment. 

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Mucositis is common and usually not serious. However, if you have any of the below symptoms, you should contact your doctor right away::

  • Mouth sores that are so painful that you avoid eating or speaking
  • Mouth sores that just won't heal
  • Persistent burning feeling in your mouth, throat, stomach, or digestive tract
  • Fever of 100.5° F or chills with shaking

Some Tips For Managing Mucositis

If you have mucositis, you can help alleviate your discomfort at home with the following tips:

  • Drink 8 eight-ounce glasses of water daily. Purified or deionized water can reduce irritation.
  • Drink sports drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade or Powerade, to stay hydrated
  • Cut down on or avoid caffeine and alcohol since they can dry out and further irritate tissue
  • Eat soft comfort foods like ice cream, popsicles, milkshakes, smoothies, pudding, yogurt, gelatin, mashed potatoes, bananas and unspiced applesauce
  • Avoid acidic foods and drinks that irritate tissues such as citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, spicy or salty foods. Also avoid  hot peppers, curry, salsa, and raw ginger and onions until you feel better.
  • Avoid all forms of tobacco and nicotine because these irritate raw tissues like mouth sores and delay healing.
  • Avoid foods and liquids that contain a lot of sugar.
  • Use lip balm for dry lips and avoid breathing through your mouth.
  • If you wear dentures, use them only for meals to let your gums rest and to reduce irritation.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and floss gently, to avoid irritating your gums.

Treatment and Prevention of Mucositis

If the self-care tips haven't alleviated the discomfort, medicines are available to give you relief from mucositis. Your doctor will tell you which one may help you the most and how you should use it. Most of these are applied gently with a swab, gargled, swished inside your mouth, and sometimes swished and swallowed.

  • Pain relief - benzocaine, dyclonine, lidocaine, oral opioid medications
  • Prevention or treatment of infection - amphotericin, clotrimazole, itraconazole, nystatin
  • Cover sores and promote healing - antacids, sucralfate
  • Mouth cleaning - chlorhexidine, saline solution

    To prevent mucositis in the first place, sucking on ice chips during chemo can help, as can using Caphosol solutions and MuGuard Mouth Rinse. 

    If you continue to have symptoms despite prevention measures and medication, be sure to consult with your doctor. If left untreated, mucositis can cause sores to become irritated and eventually infected, making it more painful and difficult to cure. 

    National Cancer Institute. Oral Complications of Chemotherapy, 2007. 

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