By Will Boggs, MD
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – When people with head or neck cancer are treated with radiation, a common side effect is dry mouth, and now researchers have shown that the problem can be relieved by acupuncture.
Excessive dryness of the mouth is technically termed xerostomia. Dr. Mark Chambers and colleagues from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, conducted a pilot study to see if radiation-induced xerostomia resulting from radiation therapy for cancer in the head and neck region can be reversed using acupuncture.
Among 19 patients treated twice weekly for 4 weeks, scores on a standard xerostomia assessment scale improved significantly at the end of acupuncture treatment, as well as at 8 weeks after the start of treatment, the researchers report in the medical journal Head and Neck.
However, significant increases in average saliva volume or saliva output were not apparent, they note.
Nonetheless, at week 5 and week 8, there were significant improvements in total quality-of-life scores, as well as improvements in physical well-being at week 8.
“This pilot study demonstrates that acupuncture can improve the subjective symptoms of dry mouth in patients with radiation-induced xerostomia as early as two weeks after starting treatment, and the benefits can remain at least one month after treatment ends,” the authors conclude.
“These results are very promising,” Chambers told Reuters Health. “However, further research is needed.” The team is planning formal clinical trials in China and in the US.
SOURCE: Head and Neck, April 17, of 2009.
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