A sham-controlled feasibility trial has found that electro-acupuncture given concurrently with radiotherapy can significantly reduce xerostomia (dry mouth) symptoms and improved quality of life. Twenty-three patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma undergoing radiotherapy of the head and neck were randomised to receive verum acupuncture or sham acupuncture. Patients were treated three times per week during the course of radiotherapy. Subjective xerostomia symptom scores for the acupuncture group were significantly lower than those in the sham control group, starting in week three of treatment and lasting through one-month follow-up. Clinically significant differences in favour of verum acupuncture were seen at week six and week 11. No objective differences were found between the two groups in terms of salivary flow rates. (Sham-controlled, randomised, feasibility trial of acupuncture for prevention of radiation-induced xerostomia among patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Eur J Cancer. 2012 Jan 27.
Meanwhile the second phase of a Canadian randomised trial has shown that acupuncture-like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (ALTENS) produces a beneficial response in patients with radiation-induced xerostomia. The study enrolled forty-eight patients with cancer of the head and neck who were experiencing xerostomia three to 24 months post-radiotherapy. All patients received twice weekly ALTENS sessions over a 12-week period. Six-month xerostomia-related quality of life scale scores were available for 35 patients and indicated that 30 patients (86%) achieved a positive treatment response. (Phase 2 results from Radiation Therapy Oncology Group Study 0537: A phase 2/3 study comparing acupuncture-like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation versus pilocarpine in treating early radiation-induced xerostomia. Cancer. 2012 Jan 17. doi: 10.1002/cncr.27382