Image for cancer testsIf you are undergoing radiation therapy to treat cancer, you and your doctor may have discussed the different problems that may occur due to treatment. For instance, problems in the oral area (teeth, gums, and throat) are common with radiation therapy to nearby areas. While your cancer care team will manage any oral health problems that may occur from treatment, there are also actions you can take.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Radiation treats cancer by killing these out-of-control cells. However, since normal cells also divide (but do so in a regulated manner), they too are killed. This can prevent tissues in the oral area from repairing themselves during normal wear and tear.

Cancer treatment can also disturb the balance of good and bad bacteria in the mouth, as well as affect the lining and saliva. This can eventually lead to infection, sores, and tooth decay. Other oral side effects that may occur are:

  • Mucositis—inflammation of mucous membranes in the mouth
  • Esophagitis—inflammation of the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Change or loss of taste
  • Pain
  • Gum disease
  • Problems using the mouth or jaw caused by bone loss or noncancerous tumors

Some of these problems, like mouth sores, will go away once treatment stops, but others may last months or years.