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Mucositis (Mouth Pain and Sores)

Learn about mucositis (mouth pain and sores) in people with cancer in this guide from The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine.

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What you should know

What is mucositis?

Mucositis, or mouth pain and sores, is often a side effect of certain chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy to the head and/or neck area.

The pain and sores are caused by an infection due to the cancer treatment, which can influence eating habits. The cancer treatment kills the fast-dividing cells like the cancer cells, but also the oral mucosa. Mucositis can cause pain during eating, swallowing and even speaking.

Common symptoms

  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • Non-healing sore or blister
  • Pain in mouth or throat
  • Swelling or lumps inside mouth

What you can do: Improving your eating when you have mucositis

Tips to improve your eating behavior

  • Try freezing fruits and suck on frozen fruit pops, fruit ice or ice chips.
  • Eat soft, creamy foods.
  • Blend and moisten foods that are dry or solid. Mix them in with soups or sauces, gravies and casseroles.
  • Puree or liquefy foods in a blender to make them easier to swallow.
  • Choose lukewarm or cold foods that are soothing.
  • Drink through a straw to bypass mouth sores.
  • Eat high-protein, high-calorie foods to speed healing.

Other lifestyle suggestions

  • Rinse your mouth regularly with a salt, baking soda and water solution to prevent infections. Gargle with a mixture to relieve a sore throat, but don’t swallow it.
  • Your doctor can prescribe a “swish-and-swallow” numbing mouthwash. Ask about this.
  • Avoid using mouthwashes that contain alcohol.

Foods to avoid

  • Rough-textured or hard foods
  • Tart, acidic or salty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Really warm foods or drinks
  • Crackers and hard-crust breads
  • Potato chips, pretzels, popcorn and snack chips
  • Citrus fruit and juices
  • Tomato juice
  • Raw vegetables
  • Sour milk products
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol

Foods to try

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Ice cream, milkshakes and ice chips
  • Natural or sweetened yogurts and milk products
  • Cream soups
  • Cheeses
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Custards and puddings
  • Cooked cereals


Oreo Milkshake

1 pint vanilla ice cream
1 cup milk
8 Oreos
1 tbsp. chocolate sauce

Blend all ingredients together and top with crushed Oreos.

Blueberry-Buttermilk Milkshake

1 cup blueberries
2 tbsp. sugar
1 pint vanilla ice cream
¼ cup buttermilk

Blend blueberries and sugar until syrupy, then blend with ice cream and buttermilk.


Contact your physician if:

  • You want your doctor to prescribe certain mouthwash products.
  • You are considering using related medications.
  • You experience unintended weight loss.


  • American Cancer Society
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network