Dry mouth, a side effect of radiation therapy, may ease by Acupuncture

Dry mouth may be a worrying side effect of radiation therapy, but a new study suggests that acupuncture may relieve its symptoms.

Of 339 patients in the United States and China receiving radiation for head and neck cancer, those with acupuncture showed less dry mouth (xerostomy) effects than those with no acupuncture.

The researchers found that patients with artificial acupuncture (placebo) had about the same relief as the group with no-acupuncture.

At a spot not indicated for xerostomia, real needles at mock spots and placebo needles at false locations, the authors of the study explained, the placebo treatment required a real needle.

The findings showed that 35 per cent of acupuncture patients had dry mouth one year after treatment, compared to 48 per cent of those with fake acupuncture and 55 per cent of those without acupuncture.

Participants were assigned randomly to real, fake or no acupuncture for the study. On the same day as chemotherapy, therapies were provided three days a week.

“Dry mouth is a serious concern for radiation therapy patients with head and neck cancer. By the end of radiation treatment, the disorder may affect up to 80% of patients,” said lead investigator Lorenzo Cohen, director of integrative medicine at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

“The symptoms have a serious impact on the quality of life and oral health, and current treatments have limited benefits,” he added in a news release from the university.

Further study showed a significant difference in reaction to fake acupuncture between patients in China and the United States. The researchers said that Chinese patients had little to no placebo response, while Americans had a strong placebo response, suggesting both types of acupuncture worked.

To find out these differences, further studies are needed. The setting in which acupuncture is administered, cultural influences or the patient-doctor relationship may be at stake.

More study is also needed to confirm these findings and understand how dry mouth is relieved by acupuncture.

Furthermore, Cohen said it could be used to ease the symptoms of xerostomia.

“I think we should add acupuncture to the list for the prevention and treatment of xerostomia with this review, and the recommendations for the use of acupuncture in oncology should be updated to include this significant chronic condition,” Cohen said.