Skip to content

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

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 Patients with these problems can become withdrawn, socially avoidant, and even clinically depressed as a result of the difficulties and frustrations they encounter living with oral complications.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.)

Recommended Related to Cancer


Milk thistle is a plant whose fruit and seeds are used to make remedies for liver and bile duct ailments (see Question 1). The active ingredient found in milk thistle is silymarin, an antioxidant that, among other things, protects against cell damage and stimulates repair of liver tissue (see Question 1 and Question 5). Milk thistle has been studied in laboratory cell lines and animal tumors for its potential to make chemotherapy less toxic and more effective, and to slow the growth...

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.
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Colorectal cancer cells
    New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
    Lung cancer xray
    See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
    sauteed cherry tomatoes
    Fight cancer one plate at a time.
    Ovarian cancer illustration
    Real Cancer Perspectives
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    what is your cancer risk
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    prostate cancer overview
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    Actor Michael Douglas