cancer therapy causes devastating oral complications

  Academy of General Dentistry’s Foundation Encourages Cancer Patients to Seek Oral Health Treatment

More than one million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in the upcoming year, and approximately 40 percent, or 500,000, will develop serious oral complications as the result of their treatment. This July, the Academy of General Dentistry Foundation, an educational arm of the Academy, will launch a campaign to educate physicians, nurses, dentists, medical and dental technicians, and patients about the treatment benefits of preventive dental care for cancer patients.

Although cancer therapies such as radiation, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation have become more powerful and therapeutically successful over the past 10 years, the cancer-fighting treatments affect healthy tissues as well. The mouth is a frequent site of acute and chronic side effects which can diminish quality of life for cancer patients and negatively affect treatment.

The Foundation is spearheading this educational initiative to ensure patients receive adequate oral health care during cancer treatment. “Oral complications are often cited as the cause of the interruption and premature termination of treatment regimens for cancer patients,” says Spencer Redding, DDS, MED. “Therefore, the oral complications of cancer therapy have the potential to adversely affect treatment outcomes, cancer prognosis, and quality of life for millions of patients.”

Oral complications include salivary gland dysfunction, which leads to dry mouth; rampant dental decay and mouth sores which are painful, diminish the quality of life and can lead to significant compliance problems. According to figures from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), oral complications occur in almost all patients receiving radiation for head and neck malignancies, in more than 75 percent of bone marrow transplant recipients and in nearly 40 percent of patients receiving chemotherapy.

According to recent studies, pretreatment therapy for oral complications can positively affect the outcomes of cancer treatment. “The Academy urges that all members of the cancer treatment team should be fully informed of the treatment plan, with oral care initiated at the outset of cancer treatment,” states J. Gordon Wright, Foundation board member.

The Academy recommends the following pretreatment strategies for all cancer patients:

  • Contact your general dentist
  • Schedule oral examination before initiation of cancer therapy
  • Treat all pre-existing oral disease

If you or someone you know is undergoing cancer treatment or suffering oral complications from cancer therapy and does not have a regular dentist, please call 1-877-292-9327 to locate a general dentist in your area. Dr. Spencer Redding is one of more than 70 clinicians that presented the latest developments in oral health and technology at the Academy of General Dentistry’s 48th annual meeting, July 20-23, 2000, in Toronto.