Radiation therapy is given to people suffering from neck and head cancers. Although very effective, this therapy produces certain undesirable side effects, the most prominent among them being the dry mouth syndrome. The mouth feels excessively dry. The problem is called xerostomia. According to the latest research carried out by Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center and MD Anderson Cancer Center from The University of Texas, it has been proved that acupuncture is a very effective remedy for the dry mouth problem. The report was confirmed after the initial trials of the acupuncture technique bore positive results. Although several treatments are in vogue for this problem, most of them are not a very effective cure for the problem and are largely palliative in nature.
After radiation therapy for the head and neck, there is a drastic reduction in the production of saliva from the salivary glands in the mouth. Known as xerostomia, this side effect of radiation makes it difficult for the patient to eat, sleep and speak. Due to the reduction in production of saliva, it has been found that the risk of oral infections also increases manifold.
Acupuncture has come out to be one of the best ways of treating the problem. Before this study, a number of other studies were conducted on this subject but none were of the magnitude of this study. another unique aspect of this study is that it is the first study that uses acupuncture as a preventive measure rather than as a curative measure after the problem sets in. according to the lead researcher of the study Dr. Cohen, administering acupuncture along with radiation therapy can help in preventing the problem.
For the study, 86 patients who were undergoing radiation therapy for their head and neck were considered. They were being treated at Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center and the predominant disease was Nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Out of the 86 patients, 46 were administered standard care and the remaining 40 were administered acupuncture, which was given thrice a week. The duration of the entire course was seven weeks during the same period as radiotherapy. Tests and evaluations of patients were made before, during and six months after treatment. The results of the study were evaluated based on saliva secretion and questionnaires.
The most positive aspect of the study was that the results were evident very quickly, within three weeks. As the treatment progressed, the results were found to improve and within a month, 86.1% of patients undergoing acupressure gained full benefits.