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Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation

Overview

Oral complications are common in patients receiving chemotherapy or undergoing radiation therapy to the head and neck.

Oral complications are medical problems that involve the mouth during or after a disease, procedure, or treatment. The complications may be side effects of the disease or treatment, or they may have other causes.

The oral cavity is at high risk of side effects from chemotherapy and radiation therapy for a number of reasons.

Preventive measures may lessen the severity of oral complications.

Oral side effects may make it difficult for a patient to receive all of his or her cancer treatment. Sometimes treatment must be stopped. Preventing and controlling oral complications will enhance both the patient's quality of life and the effectiveness of cancer therapy.

Preventing and treating oral complications of cancer therapy involve identifying the patient at risk, starting preventive measures before cancer therapy begins, and treating complications as soon as they appear. Patients with poor mouth care before treatment begins may have more frequent and severe oral complications after treatment has started.

Patients receiving chemotherapy or undergoing radiation therapy to the head and neck should have their care planned by a team of doctors and specialists.

To manage oral complications, the oncologist will work closely with the patient's dentist and may refer the patient to other health professionals with special training. These may include the following specialists: