A Research Review of the Current Treatments for Radiation-Induced Oral Mucositis in Patients With Head and Neck Cancer

Ai-Shan Shih

Christine Miaskowski

Marylin Dodd

Nancy A. Stotts

Laurie MacPhail

ONF 2002, 29(7), 1063-1080. DOI: 10.1188/02.ONF.1063-1080

Purpose/Objectives: To review the research studies on the current treatments for radiation therapy- (RT-) induced mucositis in patients with head and neck cancer.

Data Sources: MEDLINE® search of the literature from 1966-2001.

Data Synthesis: Four types of agents (i.e., antimicrobial, coating, anti-inflammatory, and cytokine-like agents) have been evaluated for the management of RT-induced oral mucositis in patients with head and neck cancer. Most of the published studies had relatively small sample sizes and used inconsistent measures to evaluate the extent and severity of oral mucositis. Therefore, definitive conclusions regarding the effectiveness of any of the agents tested in the prevention and treatment of RT-induced oral mucositis cannot be drawn.

Conclusions: Oral mucositis remains the most common complication among patients with head and neck cancer. Although a number of strategies and products are being investigated and new directions are promising, the therapies tested to date have not produced consistent results.

Implications for Nursing: The most effective measure to treat RT-induced mucositis in patients with head and neck cancer is frequent oral rinsing with a bland mouthwash, such as saline or a sodium bicarbonate rinse, to reduce the amount of oral microbial flora. Dental care, consistent oral assessments, and the initiation of a standardized oral hygiene protocol before the initiation of cancer treatment are the most effective approaches for oral mucositis.

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