CHAMOMILE AND CANCER

Medical-Care News

Herbal extract eases therapy complication

Being treated for cancer is tough enough, but often the therapy's side effects add even more insult to injury. One such complication, called oral mucositis (ulcerations in the mouth), however, may have met its match in the form of an oral rinse consisting of a chamomile extract.

"I've worked with cancer patients for over 20 years, and this is the best treatment for this complication I've seen so far," says William Carl, D.D.S., from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. Previous treatments included sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen peroxide solutions, both offering limited effectiveness. "The therapy makes life easier for people who are already carrying a fairly heavy burden. It shortens the span of discomfort and reduces chances of oral-tissue breakdown," he says.

In Dr. Carl's study of 98 patients undergoing either chemotherapy or radiation for cancer, the oral rinse was given. Of those receiving chemotherapy, 75 percent didn't develop mucositis during the treatment course. And only one in 20 patients who received radiation developed a severe form of mucositis. "Usually without exception, all of these patients would have developed severe mucositis some time during the course of their cancer treatment," says Dr. Carl.

When a patient receives radiation or chemotherapy, the lining of the mouth becomes extremely vulnerable to oral ulcerations. Radiation also leads to a chronic dryness and acidity that can cause dental decay. The rinse acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antipeptic--that is, it reduces the tendency for tissues to ulcerate. "It may also have a soothing effect on the mouth," says Dr. Carl.

Oral mucositis usually occurs only during treatment, and after the cancer therapy stops, the condition gradually reverses. No side effects from the rinse occurred during the study.

Further studies using the rinse are currently under way, and Dr. Carl predicts it should be available in the near future.

ILLUSTRATION

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By Greg Gutfeld

With Linda Rao and Maureen Sangiorgio

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