Sore Mouth and Throat

Radiation therapy to the neck or chest can cause irritation to the esophagus. This is the "swallowing tube" that carries the food to your stomach. This irritation may cause pain, or it may cause the sensation of having a "lump in the throat". You may feel like food is getting stuck [although food almost never actually gets stuck]. As with many radiation side effects, this problem generally develops 2-3 weeks into a course of radiation therapy, and generally improves in 3-4 weeks after the treatments are over. Sore throat may be worse in patients who have also received chemotherapy as part of their treatment.

Patients who get radiation therapy to the mouth, face, or lip may develop sore mouth. You may get what looks and feels like severe canker sores in your mouth. The time course is the same as sore throat, but this condition may cause you significant discomfort and difficulty eating.

Recommendations for Sore Mouth and Throat

1. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Drinking and smoking make these symptoms much worse

2. Avoid very hot or very cold foods. Let food reach a more moderate temperature before eating.

3. Take small bites and chew food thoroughly before swallowing. You may even need to change to a soft diet or liquid diet. Our dietician can help you make needed changes in your diet. It is important to keep your nutrition up, even though it can be difficult.

4. If you have a sore or dry mouth, you may have lots of thick, sticky saliva. Rinse your mouth several times a day with a gentle salt and soda mouth rinse. Mix ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces warm water. Rinse your mouth with this as frequently as you need to. Do NOT use commercial mouthwashes-these contain a lot of alcohol and may cause more pain.

5. Drink plenty of fluids and use a vaporizer or humidifier in the house when the air is dry. This helps keep your mouth and esophagus moist, which reduces pain and discomfort.

6. If you are given a prescription, use it as directed. Make sure to let your doctor or nurse know if the prescription is helping enough.