Acupuncture reduces severe dry mouth (xerostomia) among patients receiving radiation for head and neck cancer, a small pilot study suggests.


"The quality of life in patients with radiation-induced xerostomia is profoundly impaired," said study senior author Mark S. Chambers, DMD, a professor in the dental oncology department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston "Symptoms can include altered taste, dental decay, infections of the tissues of the mouth, and difficulty with speaking, eating and swallowing. Conventional treatments have been less than optimal, providing short-term response at best."

The Study

This study included 19 patients with xerostomia who'd completed radiation therapy at least four weeks earlier. They were given two acupuncture treatments a week for four weeks. Acupuncture points used in the treatment were located on the ears, chin, index finger, forearm and lateral surface of the leg.

The acupuncture treatments resulted in improvements in physical well-being and xerostomia symptoms, the researchers said.

The study was published online in the journal Head & Neck.

Larger Clinical Trial Planned

The researchers are planning a phase 3, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

"Although the patient population was small, the positive results are encouraging and warrant a larger trial to assess patients over a longer period of time," Dr. Chambers said.

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