Secretions and Oral Care

Last Modified: October 10, 2006

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My sister is in the late stages of ovarian cancer, which she has had for 5 years. She is now on TPN because she can not eat or drink.

Within the last week, she has developed thick mucus that seeps from her mouth. Is there something we can do for her, something she can take under her tongue, possibly?

Answer

Erin McMenamin, MSN, CRNP, AOCN, Pain Medicine Nurse Practitioner and Program Manager at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Thick mucus may require a Yankour suction set-up. A Yankour suction is a hard, thin plastic tube hooked to a suction device and collection canister. The patient or family member can use it inside the mouth to help suck up the thick secretions.

In terms of medications, there are two that we often use to dry up secretions. The first is the Scopolamine patch that people use for motion sickness. The patch is applied behind the ear and is changed every three days. The second is a medication called levsin, which is put under the tongue and dissolved. However, both of these may actually cause thicker secretions in an effort to dry them up. Thus, they are typically used for people with a lot of excess secretions who are unable to cough/swallow and clear them.

Another way to approach this issue would be to try to thin the secretions with moisture. Using a humidifier in the room, or one attached to a face mask, may help loosen the secretions and make it easier for her to clear them or to use the Yankour suction with them. Good mouth care is very important. Rinsing with a salt water solution at least 5 times a day, and using a lip moisturizer and oral sponges to moisten the mouth are both very important. See our oral care tip sheet for more tips.

Blogs

How to Find the Cancer Resources You Need - Brown Bag Web Chat
by OncoLink Editorial Team
June 15, 2011

Breaking news: Supreme Court votes to uphold Affordable Care Act Subsidies
by Christina Bach, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C
June 26, 2015

Related News

Pain Management Varies Among Palliative Care Centers

Nov 6, 2012

Variations in outcomes for terminal cancer patients affected by organizational factors


Docs, Patients Have Different Attitudes Toward End-of-Life Care

Apr 28, 2014

For patients and caregivers, but not doctors, preferences affected by baseline health attitudes


USPSTF: Lack of Evidence for Primary Care Oral CA Screening

Nov 26, 2013

Insufficient evidence to weigh the benefits, harms of primary care screening for asymptomatic adults