Radiation Therapy Side Effects: Esophagitis and Mucositis

Will radiation therapy make my mouth or throat hurt?

The lining of your esophagus (food pipe) is sensitive to radiation and may become inflamed and sore during treatments (a condition called esophagitis). You may feel a burning sensation in your throat or chest, or you may feel as if you have a "lump" in your throat. You may also feel pain when you swallow.

The lining of your mouth, throat, and gums is called the oral mucosa. This lining is also sensitive to radiation, and may also become inflamed or sore during treatments (a condition called mucositis). You may have a dry mouth with thick, sticky saliva. You also may have mouth sores or discomfort when chewing or swallowing. Some patients receiving radiation treatments to the mouth may be referred to a dentist, and most patients will also be referred to a registered dietitian.

The symptoms of esophagitis and mucositis may occur during the second or third week of radiation therapy, and gradually increase during treatment. The symptoms are common and temporary - they will start going away within two or three weeks after the treatment is complete.

What should I do if I have a sore mouth or feel pain when swallowing?

To reduce the discomfort caused by esophagitis or mucositis, follow these guidelines:

What should I do if I am having trouble swallowing my medications?

If you are having trouble swallowing your medications, ask your pharmacist which medications can be crushed. If your pharmacist tells you it is safe to crush your medications, mix them with soft foods such as applesauce or pudding. It is important to ask your pharmacist for his/her recommendations on which pills should not be crushed. Your healthcare provider will often prescribe liquid pain medications and anesthetic liquids for local application (it may be easier to swallow liquid medications than a pill).

How can I relieve the discomfort of a dry mouth?

What are some oral hygiene tips to help prevent esophagitis and mucositis?

Good mouth care may not prevent side effects to your mouth, but it helps prevent infection and the spread of infection. Good mouth care also:

Here are some mouth care tips:

Will I still be able to wear my dentures if I'm receiving radiation to the mouth?

If your gums become inflamed or sore during your radiation treatment, you may have difficulty wearing dentures. Often, dentures may have to be removed during treatment and refitted 3 to 6 months after your treatment is complete.

Will radiation therapy change my sense of taste?

Your sense of taste may change during radiation treatments. Different foods may seem to taste the same, have a slightly bitter taste or have no taste at all. Despite changes in your sense of taste, it is very important to continue eating well-balanced meals and avoid losing weight.

Foods that are slightly chilled (flavored gelatin, pudding, and applesauce) may be tolerated better.

You may find that meat becomes distasteful after you have had several weeks of radiation treatment. If you are unable to eat meat because it is distasteful, be sure that you have another protein source in your diet. Try eating more fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and milk.

Adding protein supplements to your meal plan usually becomes necessary when your sense of taste changes. A registered dietitian can recommend a supplement brand to meet your nutritional needs.

Can someone help me address my nutritional concerns?

Yes. Registered dietitians can help you with any nutritional concerns you may have. Dietitians are available to help you adapt your diet and advise you on recipes and nutritional supplements to provide additional calories, protein, and other nutrients.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/ or www.clevelandclinicflorida.org. This document was last reviewed on: 6/21/2016

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