Mucositis is a common side effect of chemotherapy and is also at times caused by radiotherapy when it involves the head or the neck. It takes place when the cancer treatment breaks down the rapidly divided epithelial cells that line up the gastro-intestinal tract, leaving the mucosal tissue open to ulceration and infection.
The mucosal tissue is also known as mucosa or the mucous membrane and is what lines all body passages communicating with the air like the respiratory and alimentary tracts having cells which associate with glands secreting mucus. The section of the lining covering the mouth is the oral mucosa and is one of the most sensitive areas of the body. It is also vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation and the oral cavity is one of the most common sites for mucositis.
Mucositis is divided into two main types which include oral mucositis and gastrointestinal mucositis. Oral mucositis can cause mouth ulcers or sores with pain or difficulty in swallowing while gastrointestinal mucositis occurs in the digestive system, often causing diarrhoea. There is also a possibility for mucositis affecting the lining of the anus which is a condition known as proctitis.
Oral mucositis is the most, unbearable complication of cancer treatments especially chemotherapy and radiation leading to many problems which includes pain, nutritional issues resulting in inability to eat with increased risk of infection due to open sores in the mucosa.
This has a significant stress on the patient’s quality of life. Individuals that receive radiotherapy for cancer treatment like breast cancer may not develop mucositis since the therapy is not focused near the mucous membranes. The digestive tract tends to be more vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiotherapy or chemotherapy which could damage the delicate lining and if they have to undergo cancer treatment which could cause mucositis, a regular check for the condition is done.
Mucositis usually is diagnosed after an examination or checking on the symptoms. It is considered that around 40% of the people who tend to receive chemotherapy as cancer treatment may develop some degree of mucositis and it can be more severe in a few cases based on the treatment.
Around 70% of the people who receive high doses of chemotherapy due to stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant tend to develop mucositis. Treatment for mucositis is to prevent the infection and reduce the pain which is done with the use of painkillers together with good oral hygiene. Other treatments are available to reduce the symptoms of oral mucositis like low-level laser therapy – LLLT and medication while for gastrointestinal mucositis to reduce the main symptoms of the condition like diarrhoea and inflammation, a combination of medicine and self-care measures is essential.
The symptoms of this condition tend to improve after a few weeks on completion of the radiotherapy and chemotherapy though it could take longer. Most of the serious cases could lead to a number of other health conditions and some people with mucositis find difficulty in swallowing food and the need of alternative feeding method like feeding tube may be needed. Mouth ulcers could get infected with bacteria which could spread to the blood and to the other organs which is known as sepsis and could be dangerous to life.