Skip to main content

UCSF Clinic Fills Unmet Need for Managing Oral Side Effects of Cancer Therapies


As advances in cancer treatments have expanded, so has the number of side effects that impact the mouth. Oral medicine specialists at UC San Francisco are working to mitigate these often-debilitating problems, which affect the majority of patients undergoing or recovering from cancer therapy.

UCSF’s Oral Oncology Clinic offers these patients hope for relief from their pain and discomfort. The clinic’s providers treat an array of acute and chronic oral complications arising from all manner of cancer therapy; these adverse events include mucositis, oral lesions and infections, mouth sores, jaw osteonecrosis, dysesthesia, dry mouth, neuropathies and graft-versus-host disease.

“Research has brought us many new, exciting cancer therapies, and thankfully longer survival rates,” said Alessandro Villa, DDS, PhD, MPH, director of UCSF’s Oral Oncology Clinic and chief of UCSF’s Sol Silverman Oral Medicine Clinic. “However, most of these agents are associated with new oral problems that are often misdiagnosed and just managed temporarily for pain. The good news is we have the means to offer patients relief and in many cases resolve their issues altogether.”

The numbers are sobering, in terms of the percentages of those suffering oral complications related to the type of treatment. These problems affect the following patients:

  •   >90 percent of those undergoing radiation treatment for the head or neck
  •   30 percent to 40 percent of those receiving chemotherapy or immunotherapy 
  •   80 percent of bone marrow transplant recipients

Villa noted that oral side effects can make eating, drinking and swallowing difficult, with patients getting frustrated when, on top of dealing with their cancer diagnosis and treatment, they can’t get answers to these resulting issues – which can last long after the therapy has ended. 

“What we see is that patients often bounce around from one specialist to another, trying to find a solution to their specific problem,” said Villa. “At our clinic we understand which cancer therapy might be causing particular side effects, and offer targeted treatment options.” 

The treatment is personalized for each patient, based on the complication and its cause; the clinic performs biopsies of oral lesions when necessary to determine the best treatment or to rule out dysplasia or a secondary cancer. Common therapies include intralesional steroid injections, nonsurgical sequestrectomy of the jawbone, and topical and systemic medications. 

Clinic offers range of support services

UCSF’s Oral Oncology Clinic, located at the Mission Bay campus, is the only one of its kind in Northern California. Patients are assigned a staff coordinator to help them navigate the treatment process and connect with support services, including referrals and insurance; the clinic also provides education, counseling and possible preventive measures for patients at risk of developing oral side effects from future cancer treatment. Patients are billed through their medical insurance. 

To learn more:

UCSF Oral Oncology Clinic

UCSF Sol Silverman Oral Medicine Clinic

Phone: (415) 476-5903 | Fax: (415) 502-8180

Refer a patient

Clinical trials

For physicians whose patients have been diagnosed with oral cancer and are seeking cancer care, please contact UCSF’s Head and Neck Surgery Cancer Clinic.