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Campaign Targets Oral Complications of Cancer Treatment

Most cancer patients don't know that visiting a dentist can make a difference in their cancer treatment. A new health awareness campaign from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research explains how proper oral care can prevent or minimize painful complications in the mouth that affect up to one-third of patients undergoing treatment for cancer.

Of the 1.2 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year, approximately 400,000 will develop oral complications from their treatments. Many patients, dentists, and oncologists, however, are unaware of the right steps to take to prevent or manage these potentially serious problems.

NIDCR director Dr. Harold Slavkin kicks off new oral care campaign.

"Oral Health, Cancer Care and You: Fitting the Pieces Together" informs health care providers and patients about what they can do to reduce the risk and impact of oral complications. NIDCR is conducting the awareness campaign in partnership with the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Friends of the NIDCR.

Oral complications can result from all forms of cancer treatment, including radiation to the head and neck, chemotherapy for any type of cancer, and bone marrow transplantation. Among the most common complications are painful, inflamed gums; mouth ulcers; bleeding; infection; and salivary gland dysfunction that leads to dry mouth and rampant tooth decay. Oral side effects may be acute, or they may last a lifetime.

Oral complications can affect cancer treatment as well. These conditions can be so debilitating that patients may tolerate only lower, less effective doses of anticancer drugs, may postpone scheduled treatments, or may discontinue treatment entirely. Oral side effects can also be the source of systemic infections that may interfere with cancer therapy and even threaten patient survival. Campaign materials are available from the National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse; Attn: OCCT, 1 NOHIC Way, Bethesda, MD 20892-3500; toll-free phone: 1-877-216-1019; Web site

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