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Answered 2008-10-18 00:55:49

For treatment of patients with cancer, radiation oncology is a common treatment to help fight and treat the cancerous region. One of the side effects of radiation therapy is a progressive stiffening of the tissues under radiation. The more radiation a tissue receives, the more likely the stiffening will occur; and patients with long treatment schedules or on a second round of radiation often see these effects. This stiffening is usually treated with stretching to the affected areas.

For head and neck cancer patients, if radiation is applied to areas around the mouth and jaw, the stiffening of the facial tissues causes trismus. Trismus is the limited opening (or range-of-motion) of the mouth. Severe cases of trismus are often called "lockjaw." Unfortunately, the mouth does not easily lend itself to be stretched open, and the stiffening is significant. Additionally, patients are rarely warned of this side-effect to prevent it. Patients often only discover it after the stiffening has caused limitations in their ability to eat, drink, speak, etc.

Exercises and stretching to prevent trismus is the best course when head-and-neck cancer patients are receiving radiation therapy. However, treatment for stiffening of the jaw or trismus includes heat, medication and stretching. Stretching the jaw is difficult and a number of aids have been developed to assist patients, like the OraStretch Press or the TheraBite systems. These devices are used by patients to press their mouth open and stretch the jaw and facial muscles, to overcome the stiffening caused by radiation.

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