New mouthwash helps with pain linked to head and neck cancer

February 01, 2006

Doctors in Italy are studying whether a new type of mouthwash will help alleviate pain for patients suffering from head and neck cancer who were treated with radiation therapy, according to a study published in the February 1, 2006, issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, the official journal of ASTRO, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

Fifty patients, suffering from various forms of head and neck cancer and who received radiation therapy as part of their treatment, were observed during the course of their radiation treatment. Mucositis, or inflammation of the mucous membrane in the mouth, is the most common side effect for these patients yet no additional therapy has been identified that successfully reduces the pain. All of the patients experienced some level of pain related to their cancer treatment and this study sought to discover if a mouthwash made from the local anesthetic tetracaine was able to alleviate the discomfort associated with head and neck cancer and if there would be any negative side effects of the mouthwash. The doctors chose to concoct a tetracaine-based mouthwash instead of a lidocaine-based version because it was found to be four times more effective, worked faster and produced a prolonged relief.

The tetracaine was administered by a mouthwash approximately 30 minutes before and after meals, or roughly six times a day. Relief of oral pain was reported in 48 of the 50 patients. Sixteen patients reported that the mouthwash had an unpleasant taste or altered the taste of their food.

"Though our study is relatively small, we found that the tetracaine-based mouthwash reduced oral pain, without any relevant side effects, in a sizeable number of our studied patients. With more testing, this could become a more common way to treat this side effect," said Daniela Alterio, M.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy. "Oral pain is one of the most common side effects of radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, so this is great news for patients undergoing that treatment."
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For more information on radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, please visit www.rtanswers.org.

To arrange an interview with Dr. Alterio or for a copy of "Tetracaine Oral Gel in Patients Treated With Radiotherapy for Head and Neck Cancer: Final Results of a Phase II Study," please contact Nick Lashinsky at nickl@astro.org or 1-800-962-7876.

ASTRO is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 8,500 members who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, the Society is dedicated to the advancement of the practice of radiation oncology by promoting excellence in patient care, providing opportunities for educational and professional development, promoting research and disseminating research results and representing radiation oncology in a rapidly evolving healthcare environment.

American Society for Radiation Oncology

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