According to a study published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, use of an oral anesthetic gel relieves the pain experienced by patients with oral mucositis following radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.
Approximately 40,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every year. Cancers of the head and neck comprise several types of cancer affecting the nasal cavity, sinuses, oral cavity, nasopharynx, oropharynx, and other sites throughout the head and neck.
Oral mucositis refers to inflammation of the oral mucosa (lining of the mouth) that results from chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Symptoms may include redness, swelling, and ulceration. When oral mucositis is severe, patients cannot swallow food or liquid and often have to be given nutrients through a vein. In addition, oral mucositis can cause severe pain, increase the risk of infection, and may limit a patient’s ability to tolerate further treatment.
To assess the safety and feasibility of an oral anesthetic gel among patients with oral mucositis, researchers in Italy conducted a phase II clinical trial among 50 patients who had undergone radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. All patients were treated with a tetracaine-based oral gel.
Use of the anesthetic gel appeared to be safe and feasible:
- 79% of patients reported a reduction in oral pain.
- 71% reported no difficulty in administering the gel.
- 12% of patients reported that the gel had an unpleasant taste, and 39% reported that the gel interfered with the taste of food.
- Radiation therapy was interrupted less often in patients who reported a benefit of the gel than in patients who reported no benefit.
The researchers conclude that use of a tetracaine-based oral gel safely reduced pain among head and neck cancer patients with oral mucositis. The researchers recommend a clinical trial to directly compare the gel to standard treatment.
Reference: Alterio D, Jereczek-Fossa BA, Zuccotti GF et al. Tetracaine oral gel in patients treated with radiotherapy for head-and-neck cancer: Final Results of a Phase II Study. International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics. 2006;64:392-395.
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