PURPOSE: Current strategies for preventing and managing radiation-induced dermatitis, mucositis, and xerostomia are reviewed, with an emphasis on pharmacologic interventions.
SUMMARY: Nearly two thirds of all patients with cancer receive radiation therapy during the course of treatment, frequently resulting in acute skin and mucosal toxicities. The severity of radiotherapy-associated toxicities varies according to multiple treatment- and patient-related factors (e.g., total radiation dose and dose fractionation schedule, volume of organ or tissue irradiated, use of concurrent versus sequential chemotherapy, comorbid conditions, functional performance status). Three major radiation toxicities encountered in clinical practice are (1) radiation dermatitis, typically managed with a variety of topical agents such as water-based moisturizing creams or lotions, topical steroids, antiinflammatory emulsions, and wound dressings, (2) radiation-induced oral mucositis, which can be managed through proper basic oral care practices, appropriate pain management, and the use of medicated mouthwashes and oral rinses and gels, and (3) radiation-induced xerostomia, which can be alleviated with saliva substitutes, moistening agents, and sialagogues. Pharmacists involved in the care of patients receiving radiotherapy can play an important role in optimizing symptom control, educating patients on self-care strategies, and adverse effect monitoring and reporting.
CONCLUSION: Radiation-induced dermatitis, mucositis, and xerostomia can cause significant morbidity and diminished quality of life. Pharmacologic interventions for the prevention and treatment of these toxicities include topical agents for dermatitis; oral products, analgesics, and palifermin for mucositis; and amifostine, saliva substitutes, and pilocarpine for xerostomia.
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