Medical Honey in Head and Neck Cancer

Cureus. 2024 Jan 23;16(1):e52822. doi: 10.7759/cureus.52822. eCollection 2024 Jan.


Medical honey has been recognized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years, and several medical honey products have entered the market over the last two decades. In vitro studies have shown that honey has antimicrobial properties, protects against bacterial growth, and improves wound healing. However, these products are not widely used for wound treatment in head and neck surgery. Additionally, honey has been utilized in those undergoing radiotherapy for head and neck cancer (HNC) to treat radiation-induced mucositis. This literature review aims to describe and assess the utility of medical honey for patients undergoing treatment for HNC and thus review publications on medical honey for treating postoperative wounds and preventing radiation-induced mucositis. Ovid (Medicine), PubMed (Medline), and Google Scholar were searched using keywords related to medical honey and HNC. All abstracts retrieved in the search were screened for content relevance. Three randomized controlled trials on wound healing were reviewed and assigned a score using the revised Cochrane risk of bias tool for methodological quality. Three meta-analyses assessing radiation-induced mucositis were reviewed and evaluated. Using medical honey on postoperative wounds was associated with shorter hospital stays, faster healing of palatal graft defects, and reduced pigmentation of thyroidectomy scars. Medical honey had no impact on bacterial culture rates or other aesthetic measures. For patients undergoing radiation for HNC, orally ingested honey was associated with less weight loss and delayed the onset of severe radiation-induced mucositis. However, results across different meta-analyses were mixed. Minimal evidence supporting the use of honey in postoperative wounds for patients with HNC exists. However, the studies reviewed here, combined with in-vitro studies and studies in other anatomical regions, show honey may offer some wound healing benefits. More robust studies are needed to confirm the potential benefits of medical honey in the postoperative wounds of HNC patients. While radiation-induced mucositis continues to be a debilitating adverse effect of HNC treatment, the literature reviewed supports honey as a safe complementary therapy in preventing radiation-induced mucositis.

Keywords: head and neck neoplasms; medical honey; postoperative wounds; radiation-induced mucositis; ­wound healing.

Publication types

  • Review