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Side effect series: Helpful remedies for mouth and throat

Published: 11 Feb 2020

Many people experience problems with their mouth and throat during cancer treatments. The drugs used to treat the disease can cause extremely unpleasant side effects that cause sores and make it hard to chew and swallow.  

Chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cells, just like ones in your mouth; radiation therapy to the head and neck may harm the salivary glands and tissues in your mouth; and some types of immunotherapy can also damage the cells in your mouth, throat, and lips. 

If this is something you're struggling with, you're not alone -it's a much talked about topic in the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group.  Always ask your medical team for advice.  We’ve also gathered together some suggestions from members of the chemotherapy group, and advice from reputable cancer websites, which we hope you find helpful.   

 

Changes in your taste

Foods may seem to have no taste, hardly any taste or may not taste the way they used to. Radiation therapy may cause a change in sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes. Whereas chemotherapy drugs can cause an unpleasant chemical or metallic taste in your mouth. 

Remedies:

Sore mouth and throat (mucositis)

Mucositis means inflammation of the lining of the mouth. The inside of your mouth might become red and swollen with white patches and these areas can turn into ulcers.  Sore mouth happens because the cancer drug not only kill rapidly dividing cancer cells but also the cells that make up the lining of your mouth.  You’ll generally start to notice inflammation about 5 to 10 days after you start treatment and gradually clearing-up up 2 to 3 weeks after your treatment ends.

Remedies:

Mouth infections

The most common mouth infection is thrush. Thrush usually appears as white patches, or a white coating, over the lining of the mouth and tongue. 

Remedies:

Dry mouth

Some cancer drugs can make your mouth dry. This can happen because the drugs affect the glands that produce spit (saliva).  You may find your saliva becomes thick and affects swallowing and talking. It generally only lasts whilst you’re on treatment and will improve once you stop.

Remedies:

Thick, sticky saliva (mucus)

Cancer treatments such as radiotherapy to your head or neck can make it thicker your saliva, stringy and sticky - this is called mucus. The mucus does not flow as well as normal saliva, so it may build up in the mouth and throat. Changes in your saliva may get better within about 8 weeks of radiotherapy ending, but sometimes it continues for several months or longer. 

Remedies:

Problems chewing or swallowing

Difficulty swallowing is called dysphagia and can affect your ability to eat and drink. Certain types of cancer or cancer treatments especially ones that affect the head and neck can make it hard to swallow. Some sufferers find that they gag, cough or choke when they try to swallow. Other people have pain or feel like food is stuck in their throat.

Remedies:

General mouth hygiene 

Source of information include: Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer.net, Cancer Research UK, Healthline, Chemocare, thrushtreatmentcenter.com.

If you have been affected by any of the issues within this blog please share your experiences, and advice, with the 7,000 members of the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group. 


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