Soreness of the mouth & tongue

Treatments for secondary breast cancer, particularly chemotherapy, may cause you to experience soreness and a range of other problems in and around your mouth and tongue, including;

  • Ulcers.
  • Infections such as oral thrush (a fungal infection in the mouth).
  • Bleeding gums.
  • Dry mouth, which can lead to tooth decay.

It is important to discuss these problems with your doctor, breast cancer nurse or pharmacist, especially if they are causing you to have difficulties eating and drinking. They will be able to advise you on the use of painkillers, mouthwashes and protective gels to help ease these symptoms. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe certain supplements to help.

In this section

Looking after your mouth

It is especially important to look after your mouth during cancer treatment, keeping it clean and healthy, particularly if it is feeling sore. Carefully check the inside of your mouth each day for signs of redness, white patches, ulcers or bleeding. Speak to your doctor or nurse if you find anything concerning. White patches can be a sign of oral thrush (a fungal infection) which can be treated using anti-fungal medication.

Clean your teeth morning, night and after meals using a soft bristled toothbrush. You may find a mild-flavoured, non-foaming fluoride toothbrush is a more gentle option too.

Softer, bland foods are easier to manage if you have a sore mouth and are struggling to eat. It is important for you to inform your doctor (or, if you have one, your breast cancer nurse) if you continue to have problems eating and drinking. They may prescribe you some food supplements to help or, if you are unable to manage fluids at all, they may ask you to come into hospital to be given fluids and painkillers via a drip.

Tips for coping with soreness of the mouth & tongue

  • Keep your lips moist using a lip balm; this can help prevent soreness around your mouth.
  • If you haven’t already, speak to your nurse or doctor about using a mouthwash or gel to help with soreness and ulcers.
  • Try and avoid mouthwashes which contain alcohol as they can irritate your mouth. Your doctor or nurse will be able to advise you on the best one to use, or prescribe you an appropriate one.
  • Regularly rinsing your mouth with salty water can also help to ease soreness.
  • Maintaining a balanced diet, where possible, can help your mouth to recover.
  • Cutting down on smoking and alcohol can also reduce the risk of developing or worsening mouth problems.

Dental health

Having regular check ups at the dentist is especially important when receiving treatment for breast cancer, since many of them can cause a wide range of side effects in and around your mouth. Your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to check for and treat any signs of decay, damage or infection. They will also be able to advise you on how to care for your teeth and mouth whilst taking your particular treatment or treatments.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology have a wide range of information relating to dental & oral health during cancer treatment on their website.

Disclaimer: on this website you will find self-management advice to help you to manage a range of mild symptoms and side effects of secondary breast cancer and its treatment. Please ONLY use this advice if you are currently participating in the LIBERATE study. Otherwise, please follow the advice of your own healthcare team.

Page last updated: April 2020