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Oral mucositis in myelosuppressive cancer therapy.

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  • 1Vancouver Hospital, Dentistry Department, BC, Canada.


Because the etiology of mucositis is multifactorial , approaches to prevention and management have also been multifactorial. Effective prevention and management of mucositis will reduce the pain and suffering experienced during cancer treatment. Oropharyngeal pain in cancer patients frequently requires systemic analgesics, adjunctive medications, physical therapy, and psychologic therapy in addition to oral care and topical treatments. Good oral hygiene reduces the severity of oral mucositis and does not increase the risk of bacteremia. Current approaches to management include frequent oral rinsing with saline or bicarbonate rinses, maintaining excellent oral hygiene, and using topical anesthetics and analgesics. Cryotherapy is a potential adjunctive approach in some cases. There are a number of approaches that appear to represent viable candidates for further study. Biologic response modifiers offer the potential for prevention and for acceleration of healing. Various cytokines will enter clinical trials in the near future; these offer the potential for reduction of epithelial cell sensitivity to the toxic effects of cancer therapy or for stimulation of repair of the damaged tissue. Other approaches include the use of medications to reduce exposure of the oral mucosa to chemotherapeutic drugs that are secreted in saliva. Antimicrobial approaches have met with conflicting results, little effect being seen with chlorhexidine and systemic antimicrobials in the prevention of mucositis in radiation patients. In patients with BMT and patients with leukemia, chlorhexidine may not be effective in preventing mucositis, although there may be reduction in oral colonization by Candida. Initial studies of topical antimicrobials that affect the gram-negative oral flora have shown reductions in ulcerative mucositis during radiation therapy but have not been assessed in leukemia/BMT. Among other approaches that require further study are low-energy lasers and anti-inflammatory medications. These approaches to management have undergone initial study, but additional investigation is needed to determine their effectiveness with respect to the prevention of mucositis and symptom management and to determine appropriate doses and frequencies of intervention. Current studies and our increasing understanding of the pathogenesis of oral mucositis will lead to new approaches to management and improved quality of life for these patients.

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