Mucositis is one of the most painful side effects of cancer treatment. It affects approximately 40% of patients who receive standard-doses of chemotherapy and 60-90% of patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation for head and neck cancers. It can develop at any point during treatment and tends to progress as treatment continues. Signs of mucositis range from mucosal redness to mucosal sloughing, ulceration, and bleeding. If not well-controlled, mucositis pain can make eating and swallowing very difficult, leading to weight loss and dehydration. Additionally, breakdown of the the protective mucous membrane barrier can permit increased colonization and eventual infection by oral yeast/fungi (“thrush”), a condition that requires anti-fungal drug therapy to treat.
One of the most effective therapies to help reduce the severity and pain of mucositis comes from the good ol’ honey bee: pure natural honey.
The viscous nature of honey makes it a great protective barrier that coats the delicate mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. It is inexpensive and has no side effects. Honey also has natural bactericidal properties that help protect against increased colonization by bacteria and fungal organisms.
Here’s a great link to an article on “Honey in Medicine“
One of the best studies that examined the efficacy of honey for reducing mucositis, randomized 40 head and neck cancer patients to prophylactic treatment with or without the use of topical pure natural honey during their radiation and chemotherapy. The researchers demonstrated a large reduction in the risk of developing moderate-to-severe (grades 3 & 4) mucositis among those using honey (15%) compared to those not using honey (65%). Furthermore, honey use was also significantly correlated with a much lower risk of yeast (candida) colonization (15% vs. 60%) and bacterial colonization (15% vs. 65%).
For patients who are at risk of developing mucositis (mouth/throat), definitely keep this natural remedy in mind as one of the first things you try. If honey is not effective for you, your cancer care team can provide you with many other therapeutic options.
I provide some helpful links on mucostis treatments here.