Interventions for treating oral mucositis for patients with cancer receiving treatment


  • JE Clarkson,

  • HV Worthington,

  • OB Eden

  • The Cochrane Collaboration is an international organization that aims to help people make well-informed decisions about healthcare by preparing, maintaining and promoting the accessibility of systematic reviews on the effects of healthcare interventions. The Cochrane Oral Health Group aims to produce systematic reviews which primarily include all randomized control trials (RCTs) of oral health, including prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of oral, dental and craniofacial diseases and disorders. Full copies of the review papers can be accessed electronically at, clicking on ‘Login to the Cochrane Library’, followed by clicking on ‘Cochrane Reviews’, and selecting the appropriate review. This is a free service provided by the Australian Government.
    The Australian Dental Journal publishes selected abstracts in each issue for our readers’ interest. A detailed description of the activities of the Cochrane Oral Health Group, written by the Review Group Co-ordinator, Dr Emma Tavender, was published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal (Aust Dent J 2004;49:58–59). Also, for explanations of abbreviations and terminology please see Appendix 1 on page 59 of the aforementioned article.


Background:  Treatment of cancer is increasingly effective but associated with short and long-term side effects. Oral side effects, including oral mucositis (mouth ulceration), remain a major source of illness despite the use of a variety of agents to treat them.

Objectives:  To assess the effectiveness of interventions for treating oral mucositis or its associated pain in patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy or both.

Search strategy:  Computerized searches of Cochrane Oral Health Group’s Trials Register; Cochrane Pain, Palliative and Supportive Care Group’s Trials Register; CENTRAL; MEDLINE and EMBASE were undertaken. Reference lists from relevant articles were searched and the authors of eligible trials were contacted to identify trials and obtain additional information. Date of the most recent searches June 2006: CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 2).

Selection criteria:  All randomized controlled trials comparing agents prescribed to treat oral mucositis in people receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy or both. Outcomes were oral mucositis, time to heal mucositis, oral pain, duration of pain control, dysphagia, systemic infection, amount of analgesia, length of hospitalization, cost and quality of life.

Data collection and analysis:  Data were independently extracted, in duplicate, by two review authors. Authors were contacted for details of randomization, blindness and withdrawals. Quality assessment was carried out on these three criteria. The Cochrane Oral Health Group statistical guidelines were followed and risk ratio (RR) values calculated using fixed effect models.

Main results:  Twenty-six trials involving 1353 patients satisfied the inclusion criteria. Four agents, each in single trials, were found to be effective for improving (allopurinol RR 3.33, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.06 to 10.49; granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor RR 4.23, 95% CI 1.35 to 13.24; immunoglobulin RR 1.81, 95% CI 1.24 to 2.65; human placentral extract RR 4.50, 95% CI 2.29 to 8.86) or eradicating mucositis (allopurinol RR 19.00, 95% CI 1.17 to 307.63). Three of these trials were rated as at moderate risk of bias and one as at high risk of bias. The following agents were not found to be effective: benzydamine HCl, sucralfate, tetrachlorodecaoxide, chlorhexidine and ‘magic’ (lidocaine solution, diphenhydramine hydrochloride and aluminum hydroxide suspension). Six trials compared the time to heal and mucositis was found to heal more quickly with two interventions: granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor when compared to povidone iodine, with mean difference −3.5 days (95% CI −4.1 to −2.9) and allopurinol compared to placebo, with mean difference −4.5 days (95% CI −5.8 to −3.2).

Three trials compared patient controlled analgesia (PCA) to the continuous infusion method for controlling pain. There was no evidence of a difference, however, less opiate was used per hour for PCA, and the duration of pain was shorter. One trial demonstrated that pharmacokinetically based analgesia (PKPCA) reduced pain compared with PCA: however, more opiate was used with PKPCA.

Authors’ conclusions:  There is weak and unreliable evidence that allopurinol mouthwash, granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor, immunoglobulin or human placental extract improve or eradicate mucositis. There is no evidence that patient controlled analgesia (PCA) is better than continuous infusion method for controlling pain, however, less opiate was used per hour, and duration of pain was shorter, for PCA. Further, well designed, placebo-controlled trials assessing the effectiveness of allopurinol mouthwash, granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor, immunoglobulin, human placental extract, other interventions investigated in this review and new interventions for treating mucositis are needed.