According to the World Health Organization, oral cancer is the eleventh most common type of cancer worldwide. It is more common in developing countries and the risk is particularly high among men. Excessive tobacco use and alcohol consumption are known to cause about about 90% of cancers in the oral cavity. Oral cancer is treated in the same way like other cancers with the help of surgery followed by radiation therapy. During radiation therapy, patients may have to deal with a number of side effects. This latest discovery may bring some relief to cancer patients. Experts at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) along with the Regional Cancer Centre in Kerala have created a mouthwash using a herbal concoction, as prescribed in Ayurveda, that can help in reducing the intensity of pain in patients undergoing radiation therapy for oral cancer. RGCB Director M. Radhakrishna Pillai explains, "This herbal mouthwash mitigates the toxicity associated with radiation therapy which may have a significant impact on improving the treatment continuity and cure rates for oral cancer."
"The mouthwash is a simple supernatant liquid obtained by dissolving in water equal quantities of powdered dried leaves and bark of neem (Azadiracta indica), fruits of amla (Emblica officinalis), yellow myrobalan/haritaki (Terminalia chebula) and beleric myrobalan/bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica) and dried liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) roots," he adds. All the plants that have been used to make this herbal mouthwash are well documented in Ayurvedic texts with anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, mucolytic or analgesic properties. Researchers believe that these properties can be extended to relieve the problems associated with oral mucolitis, a painful side-effect of radiation therapy given to oral cancer patients. Moreover, this herbal mouthwash may also combat ulcers and infections. Pillai further states, "The intensity of pain is a major limiting factor in radiotherapy. The mouthwash itself may not have anti-cancer properties, but by reducing toxicity it lowers treatment cost and hospitalization while allowing patients to complete their treatment." To strengthen their claims, a randomized controlled clinical trial of the product was conducted on 148 oral cancer patients. During the trial, about half of the patients were administered the herbal mouthwash four times daily. The rest were put in a control group and were given soda saline mouthwash. They were assessed weekly by a physician for mucositis, pain and use of pain-killers, antibiotics and anti-fungals. The trial reports conclude, "By 22nd day of the treatment, when the radiation is most damaging, patients in the group that used the herbal mouthwash had significantly lower pain and reduced use of analgesics and antibiotics compared to the control group. Over a six-month period, these patients experienced less dryness of mouth, had lower intolerance to spicy food and overall better quality of life."