Washington: Acupuncture, when given alongside radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, can reduce the devastating side effect of dry mouth, a new study has suggested.
Xerostomia, commonly known as severe dry mouth, is characterized by reduced salivary flow, which commonly affects patients receiving radiotherapy for head and neck cancer and the condition impairs the quality of life for patients, as it creates difficulties eating, speaking and sleeping, while also increasing the risk for oral infections.
Lorenzo Cohen and his team from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center examined 86 patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, out of which 40 were randomized to acupuncture while 46 to the standard of care.
Those in the treatment arm received acupuncture therapy three times per week during the seven-week course of radiotherapy.
Patients were evaluated before radiotherapy, weekly during radiotherapy, and then again one and six months later, and the results were based on data derived from two self-report questionnaires and measuring actual saliva flow.
Patients completed the Xerostomia Questionnaire (XQ), an eight-item survey which assessed symptoms consistent with the condition. XQ scores under 30 corresponded to mild or no symptoms of xerostomia.
The second measure, MD Anderson Symptom Inventory Head and Neck (MDASI-HN), ranked the severity of cancer-related symptoms, other than xerostomia, and their interference with quality of life.
The researchers also measured saliva flow rates using standardized sialometry collection techniques.
“What was quite remarkable was that we started to see group differences as early as three weeks into radiotherapy for the development of xerostomia, cancer-related symptoms that interfere with quality of life, and saliva flow rates - an important objective measure,” Zhiqiang Meng, co-principle investigator of the study, said.
The largest group differences in XQ scores were seen by the end of radiotherapy, but the differences persisted over time, and one month after the end of radiotherapy, 54.3 percent of the acupuncture group reported XQ scores greater than 30, compared to the control group at 86.1 percent.
Almost six months after radiotherapy, the numbers dropped to 24.1 percent in the acupuncture group and 63.6 percent of the control group still reporting symptoms of xerostomia.
Saliva flow rates were also greater in the acupuncture group, starting at three weeks into radiotherapy and persisting through the one and six month follow-up.
The study has been published in the journal Cancer.