Oral temperature changes in head and neck cancer patients predicts side effect severity

January 26, 2012

Slight temperature increases of the oral mucus membranes early in a head and neck cancer patient's chemotherapy and radiation therapy (chemoradiotherapy) treatment is a predictor of severe mucositis later in treatment, according to a study presented at the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium.

Mucositis, or mouth sores, is a common side effect of chemoradiotherapy for head and neck cancer that is painful and can be very severe. Physicians cannot predict which patients will have mild mucositis or severe mucositis that would require narcotic pain medication, nutritional support and/or feeding tubes.

Researchers in this study hypothesized that using sensitive thermal imaging technology to measure temperature changes of less than one-tenth of a degree early in treatment could predict the severity of mucositis later in treatment. This knowledge could allow for early intervention and potential changes in therapy using a technology that is simple, harmless and non-invasive.

Patients receiving chemoradiotherapy underwent baseline and weekly thermal imaging of their oral . All patients displayed an increase in temperature and severe mucositis was found in 53 percent of patients.

"If we could predict which patients were going to suffer the greatest toxicity, we could proactively make changes to their care that could ameliorate or prevent side effects," Ezra Cohen, MD, lead author of the study and co-director of the program at The University of Chicago in Chicago, said. "Ultimately, we could identify the patients at higher risk of severe complications from treatment."

Explore further: Certain head and neck cancer patients benefit from second round of treatment

More information: The abstract, "Pilot study of functional infrared imaging for early detection of mucositis in locally advanced head and neck cancer treated with chemoradiotherapy," will be presented as a poster presentation.

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