Changes in taste (dysgeusia) are common during chemotherapy and radiation therapy and can occur in up to 50% of patients.

 

Changes in the sense of taste is a common side effect of both chemotherapy and head or neck radiation therapy. Taste changes can be caused by damage to the taste buds, dry mouth, infection, or dental problems. Foods may seem to have no taste or may not taste the way they did before cancer treatment. 

 

Cancer patients have a high risk of oral complications for a number of reasons:

 

  • Normal cells in the lining of the mouth are continuoulsy growing new cells. Unfortunatlely, chemotherapy and radiation therapy slow or stop the growth of these cells.  It also slows down the body's ability of oral tissue to repair itself by making new cells.

  • Radiation therapy may directly damage and break down oral tissue, salivary glands, and bone.

  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy upset the healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth by causing changes in the lining of the mouth and salivary glands.  These changes may lead to mouth sores, infections, and tooth decay.

 

The most common reported oral complications may be caused by either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These include the following:

 

  • Inflamed mucous membranes in the mouth.

  • Infections in the mouth or that travel through the bloodstream. These can reach and affect cells all over the body.

  • Taste changes.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Pain.

  • Malnutrition (not getting enough of the nutrients the body needs to be healthy) caused by being unable to eat.

  • Dehydration (not getting the amount of water the body needs to be healthy) caused by being unable to drink.

  • Tooth decay and gum disease.

 

Oral complications may be caused by the treatment itself (directly) or by side effects of the treatment (indirectly).

 

Taste Changes

Changes in taste (dysgeusia) are common during chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Taste changes can be caused by damage to the taste buds, dry mouth, infection, or dental problems. Foods may seem to have no taste or may not taste the way they did before cancer treatment. Chemotherapy drugs may cause an unpleasant taste.  In most patients receiving chemotherapy and in some patients receiving radiation therapy, taste returns to normal a few months after treatment ends. 

 

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth (xerostomia) occurs when the salivary glands don't make enough saliva. Saliva is needed for taste, swallowing, and speech. It helps prevent infection and tooth decay by cleaning off the teeth and gums and preventing too much acid in the mouth.

When there is not enough saliva, the mouth gets dry and uncomfortable. This condition is called dry mouth (xerostomia). The risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and infection increases, and your quality of life suffers.

 

Oral Mucositis

 

Oral mucositis is an inflammation of mucous membranes in the mouth.

It usually appears as red, burn-like sores or as ulcer -like sores in the mouth.

Stomatitis is an inflammation of mucous membranes and other tissues in the mouth. These include the gums, tongue, roof and floor of the mouth, and the inside of the lips and cheeks.

 

 

Infection

 

Damage to the lining of the mouth and a weakened immune system make it easier for infection to occur.  Oral mucositis breaks down the lining of the mouth, which lets bacteria and viruses get into the blood. When the immune system is weakened by chemotherapy, even good bacteria in the mouth can cause infections. Germs picked up from the hospital or other places may also cause infections.  As the white blood cell count gets lower, infections may occur more often and become more serious. 

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