Mouth or throat pain or sores

Certain chemo drugs or radiation to the head and neck can cause a sore mouth, mouth sores, or a sore throat.

If you have these problems, eating soft, bland foods and lukewarm or cool foods can be soothing. On the other hand, foods that are coarse, dry, or scratchy may make you feel worse. You may also find that tart, salty, or acidic fruits and juices; alcohol; and spicy foods are irritating.

Rinse your mouth regularly with a salt, baking soda, and water solution (1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt mixed in 1 quart water). This helps prevent infections and helps your mouth feel better. Gargle with the mixture to relieve a sore throat, but don’t swallow it.

What to do for a sore throat

  • Avoid tart, acidic, or salty foods, as well as pickled and vinegary foods, tomato-based foods, and some canned broths.
  • Avoid rough-textured or hard foods, like dry toast, crackers, chips, nuts, granola, and raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose lukewarm or cold foods that are soothing. Very hot foods can cause discomfort. Try freezing fruits, and suck on frozen fruit pops, fruit ices, or ice chips.
  • Stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
  • Avoid irritating spices like chili powder, cloves, curry, hot sauces, nutmeg, and pepper. Season foods with herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme.
  • Eat soft, creamy foods like cream soups, cheeses, mashed potatoes, yogurt, eggs, custards, puddings, cooked cereals, and canned liquid food supplements (see chart).
  • Blend and moisten foods that are dry or solid. Mix them in with soups or sauces, gravies, and casseroles.
  • Avoid using mouthwashes that contain alcohol (which will cause burning).
  • Your doctor can prescribe a “swish and swallow” numbing mouthwash. Ask about this.
  • Puree or liquefy foods in a blender to make them easier to swallow.

What to eat or not eat when your throat is sore*

  Eat Foods that may cause problems
High protein

    Soft, bland meats and casseroles like chicken and rice, macaroni and cheese, and tuna noodle casserole

    Ground meats

    Creamed soups

    Eggnog, milk, milk shakes

    Spicy foods like spaghetti, tacos, chili

    Whole meats if not well tolerated

Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta

    Bread, if tolerated

    Cooked cereals, cold cereals with milk

Crackers, hard-crust breads, salted rolls

Fruits and vegetables

Soft, non-acidic fruit and vegetables, if tolerated

Citrus fruit and raw vegetables

Drinks, desserts, and other foods

    Non-acidic juices like apple juice and pear nectar

    Decaffeinated coffee, tea, and soft drinks

    Pudding, cake, cookies (as tolerated), pie

    Gelatin

    Ice cream, sherbet

    Citrus juices (grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime), tomato juice

    Caffeinated drinks, alcohol

    Pickles, vinegar, spices

    Potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, snack chips

*Adapted from Eldridge B, and Hamilton KK, Editors, Management of Nutrition Impact Symptoms in Cancer and Educational Handouts. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004.

What to do for mouth sores

  • Eat soft, bland foods like creamed soup, cooked cereal, macaroni and cheese, yogurt, and pudding.
  • Puree or liquefy foods in a blender to make them easier to swallow.
  • Eat foods cold or lukewarm, rather than hot, to reduce mouth irritation.
  • Tilt your head back to help foods and liquids flow to the back of the throat for swallowing.
  • Drink through a straw to bypass mouth sores.
  • Avoid irritating spices, seasonings, and condiments like pepper, chili powder, cloves, nutmeg, salsa, pepper sauces, and horseradish.
  • Avoid rough, dry, or coarse foods.
  • Eat high-protein, high-calorie foods to speed healing.
  • Look for yogurt made without citric acid.
  • Avoid alcohol, carbonated beverages, and tobacco.
  • Rinse your mouth often with a baking soda, salt, and water mouthwash (made with 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt – shake well before each use) to help keep your mouth clean and make you more comfortable.
  • Your doctor can prescribe a “swish and swallow” mouthwash with a numbing agent if needed. Ask about this.

What to eat or not eat when you have mouth sores*

  Eat Foods that may cause problems
High protein

    Ground, chopped, or blenderized meats, poultry, or fish

    Casseroles

    Egg, cheese, and bean dishes

    Milk shakes, yogurt, and commercial liquid nutritional supplements

Whole meats, poultry, fish, dry meats

Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta

    Moistened breads

    Cooked cereals, cold cereal soaked in milk

    Pasta and rice in sauce

Dry toast, hard rolls, dry crackers, English muffins, bagels

Fruits and vegetables

Cooked or blenderized fruits and vegetables

    Fresh fruits and vegetables (unless very ripe, soft, and juicy, like applesauce, bananas, and watermelon); citrus fruit, pineapple, and other acidic fruits

    Pickled fruit; raw and pickled vegetables

    Tomatoes

Drinks, desserts, and other foods

    Fruit nectars

    Flavored gelatin

    Ice cream, sherbet, pudding

    Butter, margarine, and vegetable oils

    Carbonated drinks

    Cookies and cakes unless soaked in milk

    Crunchy snacks like pretzels and chips

    Vinegar

    Condiments like pepper, pepper sauces, chili powder, cloves, nutmeg, salsa

*Adapted from Eldridge B, and Hamilton KK, Editors, Management of Nutrition Impact Symptoms in Cancer and Educational Handouts. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: July 15, 2015 Last Revised: July 15, 2015

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