The oral and gastrointestinal mucosa acts as an important mechanical barrier that prevents local or systemic invasion by microorganisms. Cytotoxic chemotherapy-induced mucosal injury (MI) of oral cavity and intestinal epithelium occurs in many patients treated for malignancy. Compromise of the mucosal barrier can contribute to local invasion by colonizing microorganisms and, subsequently, to systemic infection. Historically, gram-negative bacteremia has been the most problematic bacterial infection in neutropenic patients, but its incidence has reduced over time because of the use of prophylactic antibiotics. There has been a shift in the type of infecting organisms responsible for bacteremia in these patients, from predominantly gram-negative organisms to gram-positive cocci. The viridans group of streptococci is composed of the most frequent bacterial pathogens associated with MI. When speciated, oral colonizers such as Streptococcus mitis, Streptococcus oralis, and Streptococcus sangulis II are the most frequently identified pathogens. Other systemic infections caused by vancomycin-resistant enterococci, Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, and Candida species have also been associated with MI after cancer treatment. Infection can also exacerbate MI after cancer treatment. The best recognized example is herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Latent virus is frequently reactivated in HSV-seropositive patients; this reactivation leads to stomatitis, which can be indistinguishable from MI caused by cytoreductive therapies. Antiviral prophylaxis or treatment can control the virus-induced MI and bring about overall amelioration of MI. Recognition of this infectious cause of MI is important in order for clinicians to anticipate and minimize oral toxicity and to facilitate optimal delivery of the antineoplastic regimen.
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