Mucositis: Oral, Esophageal and Gastrointestinal Problems and Solutions

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Maintaining adequate nutrition can be challenging for patients with cancer. Many problems-commonly loss of appetite-occur as side effects of cancer therapy. The foods you eat can affect these problems-they can make them worse or they can relieve them.

Physical problems may interfere with food intake and proper nutrition. Patients with head and neck tumors may have mouth or throat pain that can interfere with chewing and compound difficulties in swallowing. Tooth and gum disease further complicate the problem.

Radiation therapy to the head and neck area frequently results in a loss of taste perception, decreased production of saliva, along with inflammation of the mouth lining (mucositis), pain and difficulty swallowing. This suppresses the appetite and adds further to diminishing adequate nutrition and caloric intake. Radiation to the abdomen may cause some damage to the bowel, resulting in cramps, diarrhea, malabsorption or obstruction.

Chemotherapy can inhibit appetite by the same mechanisms as radiation. This is often worsened because of concomitant nausea. Decreased food intake is common for a short period around the time of treatment. It is important to try to compensate for weight loss during this time by making a conscious effort to eat more.

When you experience any of these problems, first consult your physician, nurse or the registered dietitian on your health care team. With their help and with the suggestions in this booklet, you should be able to plan a diet designed to minimize these problems. Prescription medications may be required. Your dentist, dental hygienist, nurse, dietitian, and pharmacist may also be of assistance.

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From Supportive Cancer Care
by Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD & Isadora R. Rosenbaum, MA
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