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Last Updated: 05/30/13

MD Anderson study suggests acupuncture given alongside radiation may help reduce xerostomia (dry mouth)

Unfortunately, head/neck radiation for cancer patients often comes with a dose of xerostomia, or dry mouth. Xerostomia can result in loss of appetite and difficulty speaking, severely decreasing the quality of life for these patients. Previous studies have suggested that acupuncture given at the end of radiation therapy may help improve xerostomia, but a new NCI-funded research study* (Project number U19CA121503) investigated the effects of giving acupuncture at the same time as radiation.

Nasopharyngeal (the upper throat area behind the nose) carcinoma patients were randomized to receive acupuncture on the same day as radiation or to receive standard care (radiation only) for 7 weeks. Patients rated their xerostomia symptoms using Xerostomia Questionnaires and had their salivary flow rates measured (to determine how much saliva they were producing).

According to the results, the patients who received acupuncture during radiation reported significantly lower questionnaire scores (which indicated less dry mouth) and had greater salivary flow rates (that is, they produced more saliva) than did patients who only received radiation therapy. Furthermore, these differences appeared 3 weeks into the study and lasted for at least 6 months (with no additional acupuncture treatment). The findings suggest that acupuncture given together with radiation therapy may help to reduce dry mouth in patients and improve their quality of life.

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*Meng Z, Garcia MK, Hu C, Chiang J, Chambers M, Rosenthal DI, Peng H, Zhang Y, Zhao Q, Zhao G, Liu L, Spelman A, Palmer JL, Wei Q, Cohen L. Randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for prevention of radiation-induced xerostomia among patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Cancer. 2011 Nov 9. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26550. [Epub ahead of print]