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When it's hard to swallow

Conquest - Summer 2012

Study shows acupuncture prevents dry mouth


By Lindsey Garner

While a lack of saliva may seem like a minor inconvenience, xerostomia (severe dry mouth) greatly impairs patients’ quality of life.

It creates difficulties for everyday functions, like eating, speaking and sleeping. Without saliva, patients also run the risk of increased bacterial growth, bone infection and nutritional deficiencies.

A recent study shows that acupuncture, when given alongside radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, reduces xerostomia.

The randomized, controlled trial compared acupuncture to standard care among patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a common throat cancer.

“We found incorporating acupuncture alongside radiation therapy diminished the incidence and severity of this side effect,” says the study’s principal investigator Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor in MD Anderson’s departments of General Oncology and Behavioral Science, and director of the Integrative Medicine Program.

The study was part of a $2.7 million center grant from the National Cancer Institute. Researchers from MD Anderson and its sister institution, Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center in Shanghai, China, where the study was conducted, contributed to the study.

Additional NCI-supported collaborative research is ongoing, including two large trials, one being conducted in Shanghai and at MD Anderson, and another across multiple centers in the United States.

Reported in the November 2011 edition of Cancer.

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Resources: Acupunture

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