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Tex Dent J. 2012 May;129(5):461-8.

Management of the oral sequelae of cancer therapy.

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  • 1Department of Public Health Sciences, Texas A&M University Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry, Dallas, Texas 75246, USA.


Oral cancer and the oral sequelae of treatment for oral and other malignancies can significantly affect a patient's oral and systemic health, as well as have a profound impact on quality of life. Compromised oral health prior to, during, and following cancer therapy can affect treatment outcomes. Increasingly, dental professionals in the community are being called upon to provide care for these individuals. Radiation therapy is routinely used for tumors of the head and neck, delivering a concentrated radiation dose to the tumor, but also to the immediately surrounding tissue. Oral complications are related to the site radiated and the total radiation dose. Cancer chemotherapy is provided as a primary treatment for some cancers and as an adjunctive modality for other cancers. The goal is to eradicate the rapidly growing cells of the tumor, but chemotherapy is often toxic to other cells that rapidly divide normally including the oral mucosa. The use of combined chemotherapy and radiation is now considered standard for most locally advanced tumors of the head and neck. The toxicities of this combined therapy are essentially the same as with radiation alone, but develop more rapidly and are typically more severe when they reach maximum level. The most common oral sequelae of cancer treatment are: xerostomia, the sensation of a dry mouth as a result of damage to the salivary glands and/or medication; mucositis, the inflammation and ulceration of the oral mucosa; and infection as a result of the loss of mucosal integrity. Management of oral health during cancer therapy includes identifying at-risk patients, patient education, appropriate pretreatment interventions, and timely management of complications. Appropriate preventive and therapeutic measures will help minimize the risk of oral and associated systemic complications, improve treatment outcomes, and improve the patient's quality of life.

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