Mucositis in Oncology

Mucous membrane damage in the mouth area (mucositis) is an expression of a reduced ability of the mucous membranes to regenerate and indicates a weakened life organization (etheric body). It often occurs after local radiation therapy or intensive chemotherapy, and in late palliative stages. In this condition, salivary flow is reduced and painful aphthae (ulcers) and unpleasant coatings can occur, with the risk of oral thrush. The ability to eat is limited, or eating may not be possible at all. The therapeutic aim is to support the patient’s etheric upbuilding and regenerative forces in the mucous membrane area.

Reduced functional saliva production is also extremely common. When anticipating a nicely prepared meal, people experience the mental sensation of appetite, which has its origin in the soul body and which gives the impulse for salivary secretion – i.e., “their mouth waters”. Numerous drugs (such as opioid analgesics, neuroleptics, anticonvulsants, antihistamines, antidepressants and sleeping pills) cause dry mouth as a side effect. What these medications have in common is that they release the soul, which has been intervening too strongly in the physical and causing pain or itching. As a result, the released soul can no longer intervene sufficiently in the area of the glandular organization, so that salivary secretion is also impaired. The condition of dry mouth is further exacerbated by limited chewing, as well as a lack of fluid and food intake in advanced stages of a disease. Almost all patients suffer from this in the terminal stage, when their soul and spirit are already gradually separating from their body.  

Strong feelings, which throw people completely back on their soul experience and prevent a healthy connection with the body (such as fear, or not wanting something to be true, or severe depressive moods) can also lead to dry mouth.

The therapeutic approach

The therapeutic aim in the case of a persistent dry mouth with reduced saliva production is to promote everything that brings the ‘I’ and soul body into a healthy relationship with the outside world, through stimulating sensory perceptions in the broadest sense, because sensations give the impulse for glandular activity. The patient’s “appetite” should not only be stimulated in relation to food (e.g., with sour candies or ginger) but also in relation to various other sensory perceptions (e.g., via odors, color impressions in painting therapy, or deliberately formed speech in anthroposophic speech therapy). 

If anxiety or depression are simultaneously present, they should be treated with the appropriate medications, nursing care and therapies (see article on Fear: The sole suppression of anxiety with anxiolytics should be avoided, if possible, as this can increase dry mouth.


Research news

Art therapy & anxiety: In her doctoral thesis published 2020, Annemarie Abbing investigated the effectiveness of art therapy in the treatment of anxiety. Outcomes of a randomised controlled trial (n=59) showed preliminary evidence of the effectiveness of art therapy: Three months of anthroposophic art therapy led to a significant reduction in the severity of anxiety symptoms in the women compared to waiting list treatment. The therapy also improved quality of life and various aspects of self-regulation. The second part of this PhD research focused on case report methodology and the development of tools for research within this field. The doctoral thesis is available at

Further information on Anthroposophic Medicine