Xerostomia (dry mouth) after head/neck radiation is a common problem among cancer patients. Quality of life (QOL) is impaired, and available treatments are of little benefit. This trial determined the feasibility of conducting a sham-controlled trial of acupuncture and whether acupuncture could prevent xerostomia among head/neck patients undergoing radiotherapy.
A sham controlled, feasibility trial was conducted at Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, Shanghai, China among patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma undergoing radiotherapy. To determine feasibility of a sham procedure, 23 patients were randomized to real acupuncture (N = 11) or to sham acupuncture (N = 12). Patients were treated 3 times/week during their course of radiotherapy. Subjective measures were the Xerostomia Questionnaire (XQ) and MD Anderson Symptom Inventory for Head and Neck Cancer (MDASI-HN). Objective measures were unstimulated whole salivary flow rates (UWSFR) and stimulated salivary flow rates (SSFR). Patients were followed for 1 month after radiotherapy.
XQ scores for acupuncture were significantly lower than sham controls starting in week 3 and lasted through the 1-month follow-up (all P’s < 0.001 except for week 3, which was 0.006), with clinically significant differences as follows: week 6 – RR 0.28 [95% CI, 0.10, 0.79]; week 11- RR 0.17 [95% CI, 0.03, 1.07]. Similar findings were seen for MDASI-HN scores and MDASI-Intrusion scores. Group differences for UWSFR and SSFR were not found.
In this small pilot study, true acupuncture given concurrently with radiotherapy significantly reduced xerostomia symptoms and improved QOL when compared with sham acupuncture. Large-scale, multi-center, randomized, placebo-controlled trials are now needed.
Keywords: Acupuncture, xerostomia, head and neck cancer, quality of life, complementary medicine