In a clinical trial the results of which were published in the Jama Network Open, researchers at the University of Texas have found that acupuncture at a rate of three sessions per week would be a good treatment for dry mouth induced by radiotherapy.
“The dry mouth (also called xerostomia, editor’s note) is a serious concern for head and neck cancer patients who are undergoing radiation therapy. It can affect up to 80% of patients at the end of radiation therapy”Said Lorenzo Cohen, lead author of the study and professor of palliative medicine, rehabilitation and integration. “Symptoms severely affect quality of life and oral health, and current treatments have limited benefits“, he added. Saliva substitutes and other drugs are indeed expensive compared to acupuncture, and not without side effects.
This is the first randomized, placebo-controlled phase III trial to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture in the xerostomia treatment (dry mouth) related to radiotherapy. Scientists here compared real acupuncture (VA) to standard treatment (TS, including oral health recommendations) and sham acupuncture (FA). The latter consisted of inserting real needles at places not indicated for the treatment of dry mouth, and placebo needles at the points indicated for xerostomia.
Each procedure was performed three times per week during radiation therapy (i.e. for six to seven weeks) in 339 patients with head or neck cancer. If they were followed either at the Anderson Cancer Center in texas or at the Fudan University Cancer Center in Shanghai, the patients were all followed between December 16, 2011 and July 7, 2015. The data were collected by self-administered questionnaires. -evaluation at baseline, at the end of radiotherapy, then three, six and twelve months after radiotherapy.
Verdict: one year after the end of radiotherapy, the incidence of xerostomia was 35% in the real acupuncture group, 48% in the sham acupuncture group, and 55% in the standard treatment group. Acupuncture has helped reduce the number and intensity of dry mouth symptoms up to one year after treatment.
“The evidence is such that patients should sfollow acupuncture sessions alongside radiotherapy, as a way to prevent the severity of symptoms of dry mouth”Said Lorenzo Cohen. “I think that with this study we can add acupuncture to the list of care for the prevention and treatment of xerostomia, and the guidelines for the use of acupuncture in oncology should be revised to include this important chronic condition”, Concluded the researcher.