Mark M. Schubert, DDS, MSD

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Oropharyngeal Mucositis in Cancer Therapy

December 1st 2003

Oropharyngeal mucositis is a common and treatment-limiting sideeffect of cancer therapy. Severe oral mucositis can lead to the need tointerrupt or discontinue cancer therapy and thus may have an impacton cure of the primary disease. Mucositis may also increase the risk oflocal and systemic infection and significantly affects quality of life andcost of care. Current care of patients with mucositis is essentially palliativeand includes appropriate oral hygiene, nonirritating diet andoral care products, topical palliative mouth rinses, topical anesthetics,and opioid analgesics. Systemic analgesics are the mainstay of painmanagement. Topical approaches to pain management are under investigation.The literature supports use of benzydamine for prophylaxisof mucositis caused by conventional fractionationated head andneck radiotherapy, and cryotherapy for short–half-life stomatoxic chemotherapy,such as bolus fluorouracil. Continuing studies are investigatingthe potential use of biologic response modifiers and growth factors,including topical and systemic delivery of epithelial growth factorsand agents. Progress in the prevention and management of mucositiswill improve quality of life, reduce cost of care, and facilitate completionof more intensive cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy protocols. Inaddition, improved management of mucositis may allow implementationof cancer treatment protocols that are currently excessively mucotoxicbut may produce higher cure rates. Continuing research related to thepathogenesis and management of mucositis will undoubtedly lead to thedevelopment of potential interventions and improved patient care.