Penn study suggests ice chips alleviate pain for chemo patients

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Penn researchers have found a way to freeze out some of the painful side effects of chemo.

A new study in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network has found that cancer patients who experienced oral cryotherapy — essentially, keeping ice chips in the patient's mouth during chemo treatment — reported having less trouble eating and drinking cold foods, and less trouble eating and drinking overall.

Doctors with Penn's Abramson Cancer Center call the method a "low-tech, no-cost intervention that has the potential to improve quality of life" for people getting platinum-based chemotherapy infusions.

"Patients being treated with chemotherapy often have reduced appetites," explained Kim Reiss, MD, from the Abramson Cancer Center, "and may have trouble finding foods or beverages that appeal to them. Not being able to tolerate anything cold can further limit their ability to eat and drink, which certainly lowers quality-of-life."

According to Reiss, the decrease in sensitivity from the ice chips may be due to cooling the mouth's internal temperature enough to cause blood vessels to constrict. As a result, there is less chemo delivered directly to the mouth and throat.

"Our findings suggest that it might make sense to educate patients about this strategy during standard chemotherapy teaching," she added.