Acupuncture shows promise in head and neck patients with xerostomia

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By Sarah Guy, medwireNews Reporter

Acupuncture significantly relieves the symptoms of xerostomia, or dry mouth, compared with oral care education in patients who have undergone radical or adjuvant radiotherapy for head and neck cancer, indicate the results of a randomized crossover trial.

Specifically, the complementary and alternative medicine resulted in significant reductions in patient reports of severe dry mouth, sticky saliva, needing to sip fluids to swallow food, and waking up in the night to drink, report the researchers.

Val Jenkins (University of Sussex, Brighton, UK) and colleagues randomly assigned 145 patients with chronic radiation-induced xerostomia treated at one of seven clinics in the UK to oral care followed by acupuncture (n=75; group 1), or to acupuncture followed by oral care (n=70; group 2).

The two 1-hour oral care sessions covered information on the etiology of xerostomia and its effects on daily living, and dietary and symptomatic relief advice, and were given 1 month apart.

The researchers followed patients up with a Likert-style questionnaire (European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire and the Head and Neck subscale) on their symptoms at baseline and again after 5, 9, 13, 17, and 21 weeks of acupuncture/oral care.

Of the six symptoms surveyed by the questionnaire, improvements in five were noted following acupuncture in both groups. Specifically, 26% of patients in group 2 who had severe dry mouth at baseline showed improvement 9 weeks later, compared with 14% in group 1, who had received oral care during this time. By contrast, 24% of those in group 1 who had severe dry mouth at 9 weeks showed improvement by week 17, compared with 19% of those who had crossed over to oral care.

Furthermore, improvements in symptoms of having sticky saliva, needing to sip to swallow food, and waking up at night needing to drink were significantly more likely after acupuncture than after oral care, with odds ratios of 1.67, 2.08, and 1.65, respectively, report Jenkins et al in the Annals of Oncology.

"This is a very neglected group of patients suffering from a most unpleasant side-effect of treatment for which all other ameliorative interventions have failed to address adequately. The acupuncture intervention has been designed in a way that allows it to be delivered simply and cheaply in normal hospital surroundings and yet still produces a significant benefit for patients with a chronic symptom," he concluded.

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