Oral Spray Reduces Mouth Sores

Among patients treated with radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, mouth sores (oral mucositis) were reduced by use of an oral spray containing epidermal growth factor (EGF). These results were published in Cancer.

Mouth sores are one of the most common and serious complications of radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. Mouth sores are painful, interfere with eating and drinking, and can also lead to infection. If they become severe enough they may require a reduction or delay in cancer treatment.

Epidermal growth factor (EGF) is a protein that plays several important roles in the body, including wound healing and tissue growth.

To evaluate the use of an EGF-containing oral spray for the treatment of mouth sores, researchers in Korea conducted a Phase II clinical trial among 113 patients with head and neck cancer. The most common sites of cancer among the study participants were the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and oral cavity.

All of the patients were treated with radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy. In addition, patients were assigned to receive one of three doses of the EGF oral spray or a placebo. The spray was used twice a day through week five of radiation therapy.

Patients were considered to have responded to the EGF spray or placebo if they had no mucositis or only mild mucositis at weeks 4 and 5 of radiation therapy. Response rate among patients in the placebo group was 37%. Response rates among patients in the EGF spray groups were 57.7% at the lowest dose, 64% at the medium dose, and 59.1% at the highest dose.

Severe (grade 3 or worse) oral mucositis developed in 33.3% of patients in the placebo group, but in less than 20% of patients in the EGF spray groups.

These results suggest that an EGF oral spray may help reduce oral mucositis in patients undergoing radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. The spray is undergoing additional study in Phase III clinical trials.

Reference: Wu HG, Song SY, Kim YS et al. Therapeutic effect of recombinant human epidermal growth factor (rhEGF) on mucositis in patients undergoing radiotherapy, with or without chemotherapy, for head and neck cancer. Cancer [early online publication]. June 9, 2009.

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