Keratinocyte growth factor is likely to reduce the risk of oral ulcers in adults undergoing some forms of cancer treatment

Doctor examining a patient in her office

Sore mouth and ulcers (oral mucositis) is a side effect of treatment for cancer including chemotherapy, head and neck radiotherapy, and targeted therapy, affecting over 75% of high-risk patients. Ulcers can lead to severe pain and difficulty with eating and drinking. Sufferers may need strong painkillers, possibly have to go into hospital and even be fed through a tube into their stomach or their veins. These complications may disrupt their cancer therapy, meaning they are not receiving the best treatment, which may reduce survival. Cancer patients have weakened immune systems due to their treatment and are less able to fight infections. An ulcer is an open wound and there is a risk that bacteria can enter the body leading to infection or sepsis (a dangerous inflammatory reaction of the body to infection).

Mouth soreness and ulcers can be costly to healthcare systems, yet there are few preventive interventions or treatments proven to be beneficial. Cytokines and growth factors may help the regeneration of cells lining the mouth, thus preventing or reducing oral mucositis and its negative effects.

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Amifostine may relieve symptoms of salivary gland dysfunction in head and neck cancer patients

 

Problems with saliva production and salivary glands are a significant and mostly permanent side effect for people after radiotherapy treatment to the head and neck. When this occurs the condition is known as dry mouth or xerostomia. Dry mouth is not measurable and is a subjective or personal expression of how the mouth feels. It can have other causes and is a consequence of the production of less saliva or by the consistency of saliva. The rate of flow of saliva in an individual’s mouth however can be measured. People who have dry mouth have a reduced quality of life. They can experience issues with taste and general discomfort, difficulties chewing, swallowing and speaking as well as tooth decay, thrush and other infections of the mouth. A wide range of drugs that work in different ways have been used to try and prevent problems with salivary glands caused by radiotherapy. Unfortunately there is currently not enough evidence to show which drugs or which type of drugs are most effective. Continue reading