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About Oral Mucositis

About Oral Mucositis

What is oral mucositis?

Painful oral lesions come in a variety of forms, from multiple small ulcers to more severe conditions such as oral mucositis. Oral mucositis is characterised by unpleasant, painful ulcers and inflammation in the mouth.

In some cases, oral mucositis can cause severe discomfort or pain and may even prevent swallowing of food and fluids.

Who is affected by oral mucositis?

Oral mucositis can affect people who are receiving radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy for a wide variety of reasons.

Statistics are shown below, however, the true incidence of oral mucositis may be even higher as oral mucositis that is not classed as 'severe', but which may have an impact on patients' comfort, is not consistently reported.


5 - 40%

Patients receiving treatment for solid tumours with myelosuppresive chemotherapy.

75 - 100%

Patients receiving stem-cell transplantation (chemotherapy is used to prepare the patients system beforehand).

85 - 100%

Patients receiving radiotherapy for head and neck cancer.


What problems can oral mucositis cause?

The oral side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have a severe impact on patients' lives and can also affect their treatment. In patients who experience moderate to severe oral mucositis:

  • Chemotherapy can be stopped, reduced or delayed or another treatment might be sought.
  • Admittance to hospital may be required.
  • A feeding tube may be needed to help provide them the nutrition they need.

As well as these problems, oral mucositis may lead to:

  • Increased risk of infection and fever
  • Need for strong painkillers (e.g. opioids)
  • Increased weight loss
  • Restricted mouth care
  • Impaired speech
What causes oral mucositis?

The lining of the mouth is more sensitive than the rest of your skin. The symptoms of oral mucositis are caused by a breakdown of this lining and the exposure of the nerve endings, which can be related to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

When do symptoms develop?

Chemotherapy: symptoms usually develop on day five, peaking after seven to ten days.

Radiotherapy to the head and neck: symptoms will usually start one to two weeks after first dose of radiotherapy and usually continue for one to three weeks after therapy is completed.

How is oral mucositis managed?

Good oral hygiene is important in preventing and managing oral mucositis. Two key doctors' organisations, the Multinational Association of Supportive Care In Cancer (MASCC) and the International Society of Oral Oncology (ISOO), agree that patients should:

  1. Brush, floss, rinse and moisturise their mouths regularly and systematically
  2. Use a soft toothbrush and replace it on a regular basis
  3. Report oral pain to their healthcare provider
  4. Be sure to attend any dental appointments arranged for before, during and after their cancer treatment

But what if the oral mucositis has already occurred?

Gelclair® is an oral gel that helps to relieve the pain associated with oral mucositis and other treatment-related oral lesions. Gelclair® does this by forming a bioprotective coating inside the mouth, offering rapid and effective pain management and can potentially improve a sufferer's ability to eat and drink.

To find out more about how Gelclair® works and where to get it, click here or visit our Gelclair® page.

How can you treat mouth ulcers from cancer treatment?

Some cancer treatments can cause painful mouth ulcers also known as mucositis. This is the swelling and irritation of the cells caused by a biological imbalance and can occur 5 to 10 days after treatment has commenced. Symptoms may include dryness or swelling of the mouth, burning or discomfort when eating and open sores in the mouth and throat. The mouth ulcers normally heal and disappear four weeks after treatment. They are not usually preventable but it is possible to manage the discomfort.

If you are experiencing pain please mention it to your doctor or nurse who may prescribe a mouth wash such as Gelclair® which creates a bioprotective coating that adheres to the lining of the mouth, including ulcers. Gelclair® effectively binds itself to sores and ulcers and forms a protective barrier over mouth ulcers.


Chemotherapy drugs often work by targeting cancer cells as they divide and reproduce. Cancer cells are vulnerable because they divide more quickly than others but some healthy cells also reproduce at a fast rate.

Learn more here


Radiotherapy targets cancer by using radiation (usually x-rays) on the area that needs treatment. This damages the DNA in the cancer cells. Healthy cells in the area are also damaged but they are better at recovering.

Learn more here