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Eating, drinking, swallowing and even talking can become difficult for cancer patients because of a burning sensation in the mouth after cancer therapy. There are plenty of treatment options as well as at home remedies that are available for this.

Cancers of the head and neck are often associated with a large number of complications, particularly in the region of the mouth. One of these complications includes the inability to tolerate any sort of spices and a constant burning sensation in the mouth. This symptom has been associated with the occurrence of oral mucositis, or inflammation of the tissues of the mouth.

Oral mucositis is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment and is caused by the destructive effect of the radiation and chemotherapy drugs on the unaffected cells of the oral cavity [1].

This is not a condition that should be taken lightly as it can cause some serious debilitating effects and even cause the patient to delay or stop cancer treatment altogether [2]. The presence of oral mucositis makes oral care during cancer treatment very important.

Medical Treatment Options

It is necessary to treat the underlying oral mucositis to provide relief from a burning sensation in the mouth after cancer therapy.

The most commonly used options include:

  • Benzydamine mouthwash

Mouthwashes containing the active ingredient Benzydamine have been found to be very useful in reducing the incidence and severity of oral mucositis and its related symptoms. Benzydamine has known anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial and anesthetic properties and reduces the amount of redness, burning sensation, and ulceration found in the mouth [3].

  • Amifostine

This is the generic name of a drug that has been studied widely and has got FDA approval for use in patients undergoing cancer therapy as a way to prevent the normal structures from damage. The manner in which this drug acts is slightly controversial and some even consider it to be tumor-protective [4]. Not every doctor will prefer to use this drug, however, it has been widely proven to reduce the effects of oral mucositis and related symptoms like a burning sensation and dryness of the mouth after cancer therapy.

  • Glutamine

The damage that is done to the normal cells and tissues during chemotherapy or radiation is attributed to the production of oxidative stress/free radical damage. Glutamine, an amino acid, has been used as a way to prevent this damage in the normal cells as well as reduce the action of pro-inflammatory cells in the body.

Oral Glutamine has been found to be effective at reducing mucositis and its associated symptoms in studies carried out and could be a useful option for your doctor to consider [5].

  • Vitamin E

The main constituent of Vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol, which is the most important natural antioxidant in the body. It is thus natural that Vitamin E has been tested to reduce the symptoms associated with mucositis.

Studies conducted found an interesting observation that, while the overall incidence and span of mucositis was not affected, other symptoms like pain, burning sensation in the mouth, dryness of the mouth after cancer treatment and others were markedly reduced [6].

  • Newer Emerging Treatment Options For Burning Sensation In The Mouth After Cancer Treatment

A number of new treatment modalities have been tested in the lab and in controlled studies, some of which have shown a lot of promise, but they are not too widely available just yet. These include the use of: 

  • Growth factors [7],
  • Zinc supplementation [8] and
  • The use of low-energy lasers [9].

The use of low-energy lasers is considered to be the most up to date technique of dealing with mucositis and its related symptoms with a number of studies showing significant improvement in patients.

Alternative Treatment Options

The use of honey has been recently rediscovered by the medical community in the treatment of burns, ulcers and infected wounds. Trials into the use of honey in reducing the burning sensation of the mouth after cancer treatment and mucositis, in general, have also been effective [10].

Surprisingly, another popular option that patients use to try to get relief from mucositis, aloe vera, did not fare too well in the clinical trials. It was not found to provide relief from pain, reduce the burning sensation or the duration of mucositis [11].

A commonly used Chinese herb, Indigowood root, has been used in traditional medicine for a long time now and modern research has found it to be effective in managing mucositis and its symptoms as well [12].

While there does not seem to be any harm in trying out these alternative treatment options, including homeopathy, that some patients have reported as providing relief, it must be understood that these options will always remain adjuncts to medical treatment options.

Along with trying these therapies, it is also important to learn how to look after your mouth and teeth during cancer treatment so that minimum discomfort is felt by patients.  

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