Fifty patients, suffering from various forms of head and neck cancer and who received radiation therapy as part of their treatment, were observed during the course of their radiation treatment. Mucositis, or inflammation of the mucous membrane in the mouth, is the most common side effect for these patients yet no additional therapy has been identified that successfully reduces the pain. All of the patients experienced some level of pain related to their cancer treatment and this study sought to discover if a mouthwash made from the local anesthetic tetracaine was able to alleviate the discomfort associated with head and neck cancer and if there would be any negative side effects of the mouthwash. The doctors chose to concoct a tetracaine-based mouthwash instead of a lidocaine-based version because it was found to be four times more effective, worked faster and produced a prolonged relief.
The tetracaine was administered by a mouthwash approximately 30 minutes before and after meals, or roughly six times a day. Relief of oral pain was reported in 48 of the 50 patients. Sixteen patients reported that the mouthwash had an unpleasant taste or altered the taste of their food.
"Though our study is relatively small, we found that the tetracaine-based mouthwash reduced oral pain, without any relevant side effects, in a sizeable number of our studied patients. With more testing, this could become a more common way to treat this side effect," said Daniela Alterio, M.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy. "Oral pain is one of the most common side effects of radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, so this is great news for patients undergoing that treatment."