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16-11-2011 | Radiology | Article

Acupuncture may help prevent radiation-induced chronic dry mouth


Free abstract

MedWire News: Prescribing acupuncture concurrent to radiotherapy may help reduce the side effect of xerostomia in patients receiving treatment for head and neck cancer, shows research published in the journal Cancer.

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, commonly occurs in cancer patients after undergoing head or neck radiation, as salivary glands may be irreversibly damaged at doses over 50 grays, explain Luming Liu, of the Fudan University of Shanghai Cancer Center in China, and colleagues.

The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial involving 86 patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma at their center. Acupuncture was assigned to 40 of the patients, and was provided alongside radiotherapy. These patients received acupuncture therapy three times a week during a 7-week course of radiation treatment. The remaining 46 patients made up the control group, who only received radiotherapy as standard.

The patients rated the severity of the xerostomia symptoms they experienced using the Xerostomia Questionnaire (XQ). Mild symptoms correspond to a XQ score of less than 30.

The MD Anderson Symptom Inventory Head and Neck (MDASI-HN) was used to assess the severity of any other cancer-related symptoms and their effects on patients' daily activities. In addition, saliva flow rates were measured in all patients using standardized methods of sialometry. These assessments were made weekly during the course of radiotherapy and at 1- and 6-months follow-ups.

"What was quite remarkable was that we started to see group differences as early as 3 weeks into radiotherapy," commented co-author, Zhiqiang Meng, in a press release.

XQ scores were significantly lower in the acupuncture group compared with the controls from week 3 to the 6-month follow-up. One month after completion of radiotherapy, the proportion of acupuncture patients reporting XQ scores greater than 30 was 54.3%, compared with 86.1% in the control group. Similar results were found with the MDASI-HN questionnaire.

Saliva flow rates were also significantly greater in the acupuncture patients 3 weeks into treatment and at the 1- and 6-month follow-ups.

Commenting in a press release, co-author, Lorenzo Cohn, said: "The medical implications are quite profound in terms of quality of life, because while chronic mouth may sound benign, it has a significant impact on sleeping, eating, and speaking. Without saliva, there can be increased microbial growth, possible bone infection and irreversible nutritional deficits."

Based on their findings, the researchers plan to conduct a large placebo-controlled trial to further investigate the potential benefits of prescribing acupuncture in this setting.

By Chloe McIvor

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