Managing Cancer of the Mouth

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People with cancer of the mouth may experience pain from both the condition and its treatment, but medicines and therapies can still provide relief. Prescription medications, pain pumps, nerve block therapies, acupuncture and massage can all help to relieve the discomfort, used alone or in combinations depending on the nature of the infection.

When oral cancer treatment is over, one in three patients continue to experience pain and discomfort, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). But this pain is just as manageable.

Causes of Pain

Oral cancer and its associated treatments affect patients in different ways. Tumors cause pain when they push against nerves and bones, whereas radiation, chemotherapy and surgery can also cause long-lasting pain as they fight the disease. The pain may be local to the cancer or treatment site, or felt in other parts of the body in the form of headaches and stomach aches.

The NYU Oral Cancer Center explains that psychological factors also affect pain perception. Sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and fatigue can make cancer of the mouth feel worse as well, but they're all things patients can control. Pain management should meet the needs of the individual, according to their experience.

Mucositis

A common effect of oral cancer treatment is mucositis, which carries a range of its own symptoms, including pain in the mouth or throat, sores on the gums or tongue and difficulty talking, eating or swallowing. As observed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), mucositis pain affects one third of oral cancer patients. Oncolink gives some home management techniques for mucositis:

  • Increase fluid intake to about three quarts per day.
  • Eat high-protein foods such as beans, meat, eggs, fish and dairy products.
  • Avoid alcohol, including mouthwashes that contain alcohol (Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield excludes this ingredient)
  • Avoid foods that can irritate the mouth, such as spicy sauces, hard products and citrus fruits.
  • Eat small, frequent meals when you're hungry.

Prescription medications can help treat mucositis, too. Doctors often prescribe mouthrinses that numb the mouth, as well as medications such as doxepin, which is applied directly to the pain site and can provide four or more hours of relief, according to the NCI. Direct applications of morphine also reduce pain in severe cases, and medications that coat the affected area may also help protect it from outside irritation.

General Pain Management

CTCA highlights the range of pain relief treatments available to those suffering from cancer of the mouth. Implanted pumps that dispense measured doses of medication can help those in severe pain, much like nerve block therapy, which injects a soothing analgesic into the affected nerve.

A doctor may suggest acupuncture or auriculotherapy, wherein pressure on sensitive parts of the ear actually helps to manage pain in other parts of the body. Similar massage therapy and guided imagery techniques help relax patients and reduce psychological issues that may be intensifying the discomfort.

Oral Care

As offered by the American Dental Association (ADA), cancer patients may see a natural solution to their pain in one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda and one-quarter teaspoon salt – dissolved in one quart of water and used as a mouthrinse several times a day. Other oral health care reminders from the ADA include brushing the teeth, tongue and gums after every meal with an extra-soft toothbrush – such as Colgate® Slim Soft™ – using a fluoride toothpaste and flossing gently once per day.

Patients suffering from a dry mouth due to medication use can:

  • Suck on ice chips or sugarless hard candy.
  • Chew sugarless gum.
  • Dissolve xylitol lozengers.
  • Use a saliva substitute.

Receiving treatment for cancer of the mouth can be a difficult experience, but there are plenty of medications and treatments available to help patients cope. Untreated pain can cause poor eating at a time when good nutrition is important. Don't be afraid to discuss your concerns with your doctor or dentist so that you can receive the pain management you need.

Learn more about the signs of mouth cancer in the Colgate Oral Care resources.