Oral health is an important issue in end-of-life cancer care

Support Care Cancer. 2012 Dec;20(12):3115-22. doi: 10.1007/s00520-012-1441-8. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


Purpose: This study aims to assess the prevalence of oral morbidity in patients receiving palliative care for cancers outside the head and neck region and to investigate if information concerning oral problems was given.

Methods: Patients were recruited from two Norwegian palliative care inpatient units. All patients went through a face-to-face interview, completed the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) covering 10 frequent cancer-related symptoms, and went through an oral examination including a mouth swab to test for Candida carriage.

Results: Ninety-nine of 126 patients (79 %) agreed to participate. The examined patients had a mean age of 64 years (range, 36-90 years) and 47 % were male. Median Karnofsky score was 40 (range, 20-80) and 87 % had metastatic disease. Estimated life expectancy was <3 months in 73 %. Dry mouth was reported by 78 %. The highest mean scores on the modified 0-10 ESAS scale were 4.9 (fatigue), 4.7 (dry mouth), and 4.4 (poor appetite). Clinical oral candidiasis was seen in 34 % (86 % positive cultures). Mouth pain was reported by 67 % and problems with food intake were reported by 56 %. Moderate or rich amounts of dental plaque were seen in 24 %, and mean number of teeth with visible carious lesions was 1.9. One patient was diagnosed with bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw. Overall, 78 % said they had received no information about oral adverse effects of cancer treatment.

Conclusion: Patients in palliative care units need better mouth care. Increased awareness among staff about the presence and severity of oral problems is necessary. Systematic information about oral problems is important in all stages of cancer treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Candidiasis, Oral / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dental Plaque / epidemiology
  • Dysgeusia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Mouth Diseases / therapy
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Oral Health
  • Oral Hygiene / education
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Quality of Life
  • Xerostomia / epidemiology