Patients treated with radiation for head and neck cancer often experience severe dry mouth (xerostomia), but new research shows biweekly acupuncture may bring relief.
The pilot study – conducted by a team from the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, which included an acupuncturist from the Center’s Integrative Medicine Program – treated 12 patients with xerostomia who had completed radiation therapy at least four weeks earlier.
They were given two acupuncture treatments each week for four weeks on the ears, chin, index finger, forearm and lateral surface of the leg, and the researchers noted highly statistically significant improvements in symptoms.
Dr. Mark S. Chambers, a professor in the Department of Dental Oncology and the study’s senior author, says radiation-induced xerostomia impacts the quality of life by preventing patients from being able to speak or eat properly. He adds that none of the conventional treatments provide long-lasting relief.
However, "patients with severe xerostomia who underwent acupuncture showed improvements in physical well-being and in subjective symptoms," says Chambers.
Acupuncture is based on the ancient Chinese practice of inserting and manipulating very thin needles at precise points on the body to relieve pain and restore health.
Traditionally, stimulating these points is believed to improve the flow of vital energy through the body.
Contemporary theories about acupuncture’s benefits suggest needle manipulation stimulates natural substances that dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to different areas of the body.
The results of the study appeared online in the journal Head & Neck.