Radiation therapy for patients with cancer is used to treat any forms of cancer in a localized manner. In cases when the affected part is the head or neck part, side effects like dry mouth or xerostomia can occur. Xerostomia is a condition wherein the mouth becomes severely dry. Salivary production is impaired adding up to the drying of the mouth. It also can leads to pain, impaired speaking and sleep disturbances, and difficulty to chew and eat food, and posts risks for infection. Most current treatments of xerostomia are palliative and offer inadequate benefit, according to Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor in MD Anderson’s Departments of General Oncology and Behavioral Science and director of the Integrative Medicine Program.
The first randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for the prevention of xerostomia was reported in the study published in the journal Cancer. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center has shown for the first time to reduce the debilitating effect of xerostomia when acupuncture was given together with the radiation treatment for patients with cancer located at the neck or head part.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine treatment. T present, it is one of the alternative medicine that uses needles through manipulation and insertion in the body. It is believe to treat pain, infertility , treats diseases and prevents one as well as maintain general wellness. Acupuncture is said to be the application of an electric current to the needles of acupuncture points. The concept of central acupuncture, known as meridians or qi, has no scientific or anatomic proofs but the practice of the said alternative treatment is being carried out all throughout e world.
“There have been a number of small studies examining the benefits of acupuncture after xerostomia develops, but no one previously examined if it could prevent xerostomia,” said Cohen, the study’s primary investigator. “We found incorporating acupuncture alongside radiotherapy diminished the incidence and severity of this side effect.”
86 patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma treated at Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, were examined by Cohen and his colleagues. Forty patients were randomized to acupuncture and 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. The basis for the results was 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. Second measure was used by 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 team 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,” said Zhiqiang Meng, M.D., Ph.D., co-principle investigator of the study and deputy chair of the Department of Integrative Oncology, Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center.
“The medical implications are quite profound in terms of quality of life, because while chronic dry mouth may sound benign, it has a significant impact on sleeping, eating and speaking,” Cohen said. “Without saliva, there can be an increase in microbial growth, possible bone infection and irreversible nutritional deficits.”
Mechanism of action of acupuncture related to xerostomia is not that clear yet. Further study will be done in future time to complete the mystery beyond acupuncture’s effectiveness.