Acupuncture may relieve dry mouth, study finds

November 1, 2012
Acupuncture may relieve dry mouth: study
Credit: Shutterstock

Patients diagnosed with cancer of the head and neck are treated with radiation, which damages their salivary glands, and in turn causes xerostomia, what experts call dry mouth. New research from the United Kingdom suggests that this unpleasant symptom can be relieved through the use of acupuncture. The finding was presented in the journal Annals of Oncology.

On a global level, around 500,000 people are diagnosed with each year. Researchers say up to 41 % of patients complain of even 5 years after treatment. Not only does dry mouth affect the patient's quality of life, it also affects their taste, speech and sleep. While a number of short-term solutions, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, provide some relief, doctors prescribe the drug pilocarpine, which also has unpleasant symptoms.

For this latest study, physicians at 7 cancer centres in the United Kingdom assessed 145 individuals who had radiation-induced dry mouth with a trial comparing acupuncture with education about oral care. The subjects either received group acupuncture for 20 minutes every week for 8 weeks or 2 oral care educational sessions for 1 hour, 1 month apart. The patients received the other treatment four weeks after the end of the first treatment.

The researchers used Schirmer strips, or , which measure how much saliva is in the mouth in order to measure the symptoms of xerostomia. The subjects also filled out a life questionnaire that gave the team information about how the patients' mouths felt. Questions were related to changes in individual symptoms, including sticky saliva, dry lips, needing to sip water and waking at night to sip water.

Despite the fact that the researchers found no key changes in the production of saliva, the subjects who received nine weeks of acupuncture were two times as likely to report improved dry mouth compared with patients who received oral care education.

'Time had an important effect on key symptoms, with patients receiving acupuncture showing a quick response, which was sustained over several weeks,' said co-author Dr Richard Simcock, a consultant clinical oncologist at the Sussex Cancer Centre. 'There was no clear relationship between a patient indicating they had a very dry mouth and the measurement of saliva on the Schirmer strips. By definition these patients with chronic xerostomia produced little or no saliva, making objective measurements really difficult. Many studies have focused on the objective measurement of how much saliva is produced, but the amount of saliva produced does not necessarily influence the experience of a dry mouth. Xerostomia is therefore an entirely subjective symptom - it is what the patient says it is, regardless of salivary measurement.'

The study members said the placebo effect did not likely improve the experience of xerostomia. 'The profound impact that xerostomia exerts on functions such as eating, talking and sleeping, which were relieved by the acupuncture means that if it is entirely a placebo effect then this is a pretty powerful placebo,' said Dr Valerie Jenkins, Deputy Director of Sussex Health Outcomes Research & Education in Cancer (SHORE-C) at Brighton & Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex.

Explore further: Acupuncture relieves symptoms of a dry mouth caused by radiotherapy for head and neck cancers

More information: Simcock, R., et al., 'ARIX: a randomised trial of acupuncture v oral care sessions in patients with chronic xerostomia following treatment of head and neck cancer', Annals of Oncology, 2012.

Related Stories

Acupuncture relieves symptoms of a dry mouth caused by radiotherapy for head and neck cancers

October 23, 2012
Patients who have received radiotherapy for head and neck cancer often suffer from the unpleasant and distressing side-effect of a dry mouth, caused by damage to their salivary glands from the radiation.

Study finds acupuncture can prevent radiation-induced chronic dry mouth

November 10, 2011
When given alongside radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, acupuncture has shown for the first time to reduce the debilitating side effect of xerostomia, according to new research from The University of Texas MD Anderson ...

Study finds ways to help end dry mouth in cancer patients

May 4, 2011
(Edmonton) For patients suffering from cancer in the mouth or throat, a recent study shows that a treatment called submandibular gland transfer will assist in preventing a radiation-induced condition called xerostomia.

Imaging can detect response to dry mouth toothpaste

June 26, 2012
(HealthDay) -- In vivo optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging can detect response to dry mouth toothpaste in patients with xerostomia, according to a pilot study published online June 13 in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine.

Recommended for you

Promising new treatment for rare pregnancy cancer leads to remission in patients

November 24, 2017
An immunotherapy drug can be used to cure women of a rare type of cancer arising from pregnancy when existing treatments have failed.

Researchers unravel novel mechanism by which tumors grow resistant to radiotherapy

November 23, 2017
A Ludwig Cancer Research study has uncovered a key mechanism by which tumors develop resistance to radiation therapy and shown how such resistance might be overcome with drugs that are currently under development. The discovery ...

African Americans face highest risk for multiple myeloma yet underrepresented in research

November 23, 2017
Though African-American men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, most scientific research on the disease has been based on people of European descent, according to a study ...

Encouraging oxygen's assault on iron may offer new way to kill lung cancer cells

November 22, 2017
Blocking the action of a key protein frees oxygen to damage iron-dependent proteins in lung and breast cancer cells, slowing their growth and making them easier to kill. This is the implication of a study led by researchers ...

One-size treatment for blood cancer probably doesn't fit all, researchers say

November 22, 2017
Though African-American men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma, most scientific research on the disease has been based on people of European descent, according to a study ...

One in four U.S. seniors with cancer has had it before

November 22, 2017
(HealthDay)—For a quarter of American seniors, a cancer diagnosis signals the return of an old foe, new research shows.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.