Chemotherapy, a medication used to attack and kill malignant cancer cells, is an effective method to treat cancer. However, these drugs are very powerful and usually cause some undesirable side effects, including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, low blood counts, and sore throat & mouth. These side effects do not occur all at once and can appear in varying degrees at different times within the treatment cycles. Here is some helpful information on managing a sore mouth and throat following your chemotherapy treatment at Cancer Care Northwest.
Stomatitis and esophagitis are quite simply defined as inflamed soft tissues in the mouth and throat. Symptoms usually begin when your blood counts are at their lowest, about seven to fourteen days after treatment (nadir period). During this time, sore mouth and throat may be caused by the chemotherapy drugs themselves, the overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth, or other factors unrelated to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy to the head and neck can alter the lining of the mouth and throat, causing initial symptoms of soreness and inflammation. The soreness and inflammation can progress to painful open sores inside your mouth, on your tongue, and in your esophagus (the tube leading from the mouth down the throat).
During the nadir period your white blood cells are at their lowest; these cells keep bacteria inside your mouth and throat at normal levels. A decrease in white blood cells allows bacteria to flourish, causing infection. If you notice difficulty swallowing or eating, tender or red spots, white patches, or bleeding gums, call your doctor as soon as possible during office hours. Do not wait until you can’t eat or drink.
Sometimes soreness and inflammation are due to factors unrelated to chemotherapy, such as dental problems. A call to your doctor can confirm the cause of your symptoms.
If you have low white blood cell counts you are more susceptible to infection and mouth sores. You can do several things to decrease the severity or possibly prevent stomatitis and esophagitis: increase your liquid intake, practice good mouth care and use a salt/soda mouth rinse at least five times daily (1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. baking soda mixed in 1 qt. of water). If you wear dentures, it is best to remove them when using the salt/soda mouth rinse so the rinse can reach all areas of the gums. Avoid alcohol and tobacco because they too can alter the lining of your mouth and throat, leaving it susceptible to infection.
Be aware of any tenderness, swelling, dryness, or mild burning in your mouth and throat. These are early symptoms of stomatitis and esophagitis that can make eating, drinking, and general mouth care painful and frustrating.
It is very important that you continue to eat well and take care of your mouth even though it may be difficult. The following tips will help you continue to eat as normally as possible which will in turn keep up your strength and aid in your recovery.
Your CCNW doctor or nurse can give you more ideas about relief of stomatitis and esophagitis, so be sure to ask if you have any questions or concerns. Talking to someone who understands will help you keep a positive
Be sure to ask your CCNW doctor or nurse if you have any questions or concerns. Side effects from your cancer treatment can be successfully managed with open communication between you and your CCNW oncologist. Because you and CCNW are a team — we are here for you and want to help in any way we can.