When patients with head and neck cancer receive radiotherapy treatment, dry mouth is a common side effect. It’s obviously not so important when you think of everything at stake, but it is a small, distinct irritation that eats away at your quality of life. A new research says dryness can be fought with acupuncture.
Patients who have received radiotherapy for head and neck cancer often suffer this side effect, caused by damage to their salivary glands from the radiation. About 41% are still suffering it, five years later. It interferes with taste, chewing, speaking, and sleeping. The largest study to date found that acupuncture could treat this condition.
At seven UK cancer centers, doctors recruited 145 patients suffering from radiation-induced dry mouth to a study with acupuncture. It was compared to simple education about oral care. Acupuncture amounted to one 20-minute session a week for eight weeks. Patients switched treatments at the end.
While there weren’t any major changes in saliva production, patients with nine weeks of acupuncture were twice as likely to report improved dry mouth as patients receiving oral care. Symptoms patient-by-patient were also vastly improved by acupuncture. This was a quick response, and it lasted for weeks.
PLUS: New Way to Fix Dry Eyes
Was it placebo effect, like so many people believe about acupuncture? The researchers say it is unlikely in this case. Dry mouth, known clinically as “xerostomia,” takes a huge toll on eating, talking, and sleeping—and all were relieved by acupuncture. This would make any placebo effect a rather enormous one. Plus, patients were less likely to wake at night to sip water after acupuncture treatment, something difficult to explain away by placebo.
Skepticism surrounding alternative therapies such as this ancient Chinese one is often caused by poorly designed studies. In this case, it is a controlled, randomized trial that was done in major cancer centers around the UK. It is not easy for a skeptic to brush aside these great findings.
The researchers say that further studies are needed to refine the acupuncture technique, and discover how long its effects last. Nevertheless, obviously, acupuncture can be easily incorporated into the care of patients with dry mouth, especially those who have bigger problems to consider, like fighting off the cancer that has invaded their bodies.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
Ancient Technique Beats This Cancer Side Effect
Simcock, R et al., “ARIX: a randomised trial of acupuncture v oral care sessions in patients with chronic xerostomia following treatment of head and neck cancer,” Annals of Oncology. doi:10.1093/annonc/mds515.