Diet during cancer treatment: Tips to ease dry mouth

September 8, 2014 | by Dominique Grignetti

Cancer treatment can take a toll on the mouth, even if a patient's cancer has nothing to do with the head or throat, leading to a dry mouth, or a very sore mouth, and making it difficult to swallow or eat.

Here's some advice from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)  on how to ease cancer-related discomfort of the mouth.

cancer treatment side effects Popsicles can help cancer patients ease the dry mouth caused by some cancer treatments.

Dry mouth

Chemotherapy and radiation to the upper body can damage the salivary glands, reducing the production of saliva and making it harder to talk, chew and swallow food. Some medications can also be cause dry mouth. Try these tips to alleviate dry mouth:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Have tart foods. These help you make more saliva (do not eat tart foods if you have a sore mouth or throat).
  • Chew gum or suck on hard candy, popsicles and ice chips.
  • Try pureed cooked foods or soups.
  • Moisten food with sauce, gravy or salad dressing.
  • Do not drink any type of alcohol.
Sore mouth

Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can especially affect the fast-growing cells of the lips and in the lining of the mouth. This can lead to tender gums and to little cuts or ulcers in the mouth. Dental problems or mouth infections can also cause soreness.

Remember that your mouth will feel better once treatment ends. In the meantime, here are some recommendations to soothe a sore mouth:

  • Use a very small spoon (such as baby spoon).
  • Rely on milkshakes, scrambled eggs and custards.
  • Suck on ice chips that will help numb and soothe your mouth.
  • Rinse your mouth three to four times a day with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt with 1 cup warm water.
  • Cut food into small pieces or use the blender to puree.
  • Cook foods thoroughly so they are soft and tender.
  • Drink with a straw. This can help push the drinks beyond the painful parts of your mouth.
  • Eat food at room temperature, not hot temps.
Sucking on ice chips will help numb and soothe a sore mouth. Sucking on ice chips will help numb and soothe a sore mouth.

Avoid all of the following:

  • citrus fruits and juices
  • spicy foods and hot sauces
  • tomatoes and ketchup, which are highly acidic
  • salty foods
  • crunchy foods such as chips and granola

Here's a list of foods from the NCI that are easy to eat.


Here’s a soothing recipe to try if you're experiencing a sore mouth.

Fruit and Cream

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
  • 1 cup canned fruit (peaches, apricots or pears) in heavy syrup with juice
  • Almond or vanilla extract to taste
  • Blend ingredients in a blender and chill well before serving

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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