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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] - Psychosocial Issues

Oral complications of cancer, including oral mucositis [1] and salivary gland hypofunction/xerostomia,[2] are among the most devastating of both short- and long-term problems encountered by people with cancer because they affect eating and communication, the most basic of human activities. Patients with these problems can become withdrawn, socially avoidant, and even clinically depressed as a result of the difficulties and frustrations they encounter living with oral complications.

When psychotropic drug interventions are employed in the treatment of such patients, it is important that the drugs chosen will improve, or at least not worsen, their oral complications. For example, in the treatment of depression, highly anticholinergic drugs should be avoided in patients with xerostomia and salivary problems. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress and Depression for more information.)

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Note: Separate PDQ summaries on Testicular Cancer Treatment and Levels of Evidence for Cancer Screening and Prevention Studies are also available. Benefits Based on fair evidence, screening for testicular cancer would not result in an appreciable decrease in mortality, in part because therapy at each stage is so effective. Magnitude of Effect: Fair evidence of no reduction in mortality. Study Design: Opinions of respected authorities based on clinical experience, descriptive...

Read the Overview article > >

Supportive care, including education and symptom management, are important for patients experiencing oral complications related to cancer therapy. It is important to closely monitor each patient's level of distress, ability to cope, and response to treatment. This approach provides a setting for the health professional to demonstrate concern for the patient's complications and to educate the patient and family caregivers. Comprehensive supportive care from staff and family can enhance the patient's ability to cope with cancer and its complications.


  1. Dodd MJ, Dibble S, Miaskowski C, et al.: A comparison of the affective state and quality of life of chemotherapy patients who do and do not develop chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis. J Pain Symptom Manage 21 (6): 498-505, 2001.
  2. Langendijk JA, Doornaert P, Verdonck-de Leeuw IM, et al.: Impact of late treatment-related toxicity on quality of life among patients with head and neck cancer treated with radiotherapy. J Clin Oncol 26 (22): 3770-6, 2008.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: May 28, 2015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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