Dealing with the dry mouth of cancer therapy

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Herbal Remedy for Dry Mouth during Cancer Treatments.

One of the most typical side-effects for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation is dry mouth. While it is common for all types of chemotherapy, it’s especially troublesome for patients undergoing radiation for cancers in the head and neck area. Dry mouth, or xerostomia as it is referred to in the medical community, is a condition that appears when salivary glands are not producing enough saliva to keep the mouth wet. Without the proper amount of saliva to coat the mouth and tongue, it quickly becomes difficult to chew, swallow, taste, and talk.

Patients suffering from dry mouth can have a number of symptoms. These include a constant sticky feeling in the mouth, thick strands of saliva, and even pain or burning sensations inside the mouth or along the tongue. Without adequate saliva, cracks can form on the lips and in the corner of the mouth. These cracks can burn or chafe, which can cause patients to unconsciously suck at them for relief, therefore, worsening the condition. Furthermore, when the mouth doesn’t have enough saliva, dental problems can occur. This is because saliva washes away food particles and the enzymes in salvia that help to break down food as you chew also help to protect your teeth from the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Lack of saliva can also cause mouth sores, gum disease, and infections such as thrush.

Dry Mouth in Cancer Patients

Dry mouth is particularly common in chemotherapy and radiation therapy patients because the treatments damage salivary glands. In chemotherapy, this damage usually causes the saliva to become sticky and thicker. The damage usually reverses itself within two months. Patients who receive radiation therapy to areas around the mouth are susceptible to long-term damage. Some patients will see improvement in six months to a year, however, many will have dry-mouth symptoms for years after treatment.

Herbal Compounds for Dry Mouth

Artificial saliva is often proscribed for patients undergoing radiation treatment for head and neck cancers. A recent study sought to compare the effectiveness of artificial saliva to an herbal compound that has been championed as natural remedy for dry mouth. During the four-week study, one group was given artificial saliva, while the other was given doses of a compound made of common mallow (Malva sylvestris) and fingered hollyhock (Alcea digitata (Boiss)). The effectiveness of each treatment was evaluated by comparing each patient’s stated degree of dry mouth both before and after the treatments. The researchers found that, although there was no change in dry mouth for the patients that were using artificial saliva, there was a significance change in the dryness of those that had been taking the mixture of common mallow and fingered hollyhock. The study made it clear that the herbal compound was effective in preventing dry mouth in radiation patients with head and neck cancer. While further study may be necessary to determine the effectiveness of the individual herbs, it shows that natural remedies often perform as well, or even better than, man-made drugs.

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