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Cancer Health Center

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Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Oral Mucositis


In many cases, there is similarity in recommendations across the organizations. The Cochrane Collaboration, however, uses a meta-analysis approach and thus provides a unique context for purposes of guideline construction.

Palifermin (Kepivance), also known as keratinocyte growth factor-1, has been approved to decrease the incidence and duration of severe oral mucositis in patients with hematologic cancers undergoing conditioning with high-dose chemotherapy, with or without radiation therapy, followed by hematopoietic stem cell rescue.[9][Level of evidence: I] The standard dosing regimen is three daily doses before conditioning and three additional daily doses starting on day 0 (day of transplant). Palifermin has also been shown in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to reduce the incidence of oral mucositis in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer treated with fluorouracil-based chemotherapy.[30][Level of evidence: I] In addition, a single dose of palifermin prevented severe oral mucositis in patients who had sarcoma and were receiving doxorubicin-based chemotherapy.[31][Level of evidence: I]

In two randomized, placebo-controlled trials conducted in head/neck cancer patients undergoing postoperative chemoradiotherapy and in patients receiving definitive chemoradiotherapy for locally advanced head/neck cancer, intravenous palifermin administered weekly for 8 weeks decreased severe oral mucositis,[32,33][Level of evidence: I] as graded by providers using standard toxicity assessments and during multicycle chemotherapy.[31] Patient-reported outcomes related to mouth and throat soreness and to treatment breaks or compliance were not significantly different between arms in either trial. In one study, opioid analgesic use was also not significantly different between arms.[33]

Evidence from several studies has supported the potential efficacy of low-level laser therapy in addition to oral care to decrease the duration of chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis in children.[34][Level of evidence: I][35][Level of evidence: I]

Mucositis Management

  • Bland rinses:
  • Topical anesthetics:
  • Mucosal coating agents:
  • Analgesics:
    • Benzydamine HCl topical rinse (not approved in the United States).
    • Opioid drugs: oral, intravenous (e.g., bolus, continuous infusion, patient-controlled analgesia [PCA]), patches, transmucosal.
  • Growth factor (keratinocyte growth factor-1):
    • Palifermin (approved by the FDA in December 2004 to decrease the incidence and duration of severe oral mucositis in patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy followed by bone marrow transplant for hematologic cancers).
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