Chemotherapy

Patients & Caregivers

You are about to start chemotherapy, are currently receiving chemotherapy, or have already completed chemotherapy. Are you looking for information to help you better understand what this means? If so, you have come to the right place!

While chemotherapy differs in terms of type of drug or drugs and how it is delivered, it  refers to medications given to patients who have cancer to either kill cancer cells or prevent them from copying or allow for better success of other treatments. 

Chemotherapy may be delivered by medical oncology teams in pill form or through a vein intravenously (IV). It is often given in a combined routine with other medications, with the goal that each drug maximizes its benefit of getting rid of the cancer yet, together the side effects are decreased. Routine medication plans are based on long-term studies done at major cancer centers and are chosen based on safety and their ability to create a wanted result.

Drugs usually attack cancer cells which are quickly copying. A problem with drug treatments is that healthy cells which by their nature quickly copy may also be affected, such as cells that line the cell surfaces. Which explains why mucosa or blood cells may be impacted. People receiving chemotherapy may have much lower numbers of platelets, small blood cell pieces, and white blood cells which may affect clotting or ability to fight infection.

Timing of routine medication plans. Patients will have a schedule to receive chemotherapy, along with break times to allow for recovery of normal tissue. The time when the chemotherapy has had the strongest effect on the tissue is called the “nadir” and  the lowest blood values are usually seen at this time. Dentists should work closely with medical oncology teams to decide when the patient is out of the nadir, as their ability to respond to oral and dental treatment may be better.

Bisphosphonates are a form of chemotherapy which may be given to individuals with risk of or presence of cancer cells that have spread in the bone. When given through an IV, it increases risk of medication-related osteonecrosis, or death of cells within the bone.

Following chemotherapy, routine  dental care can be restarted to maximize oral health. While less common, secondary cancers may occur which means a complete oral exam should be performed at each visit.
 

For more information about chemotherapy and oral health, see these resources:

 

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The information on the Rhode Island Cancer and Oral Health Resource Guide, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other external materials are for informational purposes only. The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island does not provide medical advice. The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.