Image: Acupuncture can reduce the severity of radiation induced dry mouth (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
A new study shows that acupuncture can help prevent the dry mouth experienced by patients with head and neck cancer undergoing radiation therapy (RT).
Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MD Anderson; Houston, USA) and Fudan University (Shanghai, China) conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled, Phase III trial to evaluate the use of acupuncture during RT therapy to reduce the incidence and severity of radiation-induced xerostomia (RIX). The study included 339 head and neck cancer patients at MD Anderson and Fudan University Cancer Center in Shanghai between December 16, 2011 and July 7, 2015.
The patients were divided into three groups. One group received true acupuncture (TA), another group received sham acupuncture (SA) and the third group received radiation and oral health education, but no acupuncture. None had received acupuncture prior to participating in the study. Patients assigned to either TA or SA received acupuncture three days a week on the same day as their RT, which lasted six to seven weeks. The sham procedure involved a real needle at a point not indicated for xerostomia, real needles at sham points, and placebo needles at sham points.
The results, based on data derived from the self-reported Xerostomia Questionnaire (XQ), showed that TA resulted in significantly fewer and less severe xerostomia symptoms one year after treatment. A secondary analysis showed significant differences between treatment sites in response to placebo. The Chinese patients had little to no placebo response to SA whereas the MD Anderson patients had a large placebo response, showing both forms of acupuncture worked. The study was published on December 2, 2109, in JAMA Network Open.
“With this study we can add acupuncture to the list for the prevention and treatment of xerostomia, and the guidelines for the use of acupuncture in the oncology setting should be revised to include this important chronic condition,” said senior author Professor Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson. “The evidence is to a point where patients should incorporate acupuncture alongside radiation treatment as a way to prevent the severity of dry mouth symptoms.”
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine methodology originating in ancient China that treats patients by manipulating thin, solid needles that have been inserted into specific points in the skin. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), stimulating these points can correct imbalances in the flow of qi through channels known as meridians. Scientific research, however, has not found any histological or physiological correlates for qi, meridians, and acupuncture points.
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center