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Stem cell sparing radiotherapy for head and neck cancer may avoid salivary gland damage
Date:5/9/2012

Barcelona, Spain: Researchers believe they may have found a way to avoid damaging salivary glands during radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer a discovery that could improve the quality of life of 500,000 patients a year worldwide with the disease.

Presenting their findings to the 31st conference of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO31) [1], the researchers said that they had discovered that the stem cells essential for regenerating the parotid gland (the largest pair of salivary glands) were located mainly in its major ducts, and that these could easily be avoided during radiotherapy or given a minimal radiation dose. "This would significantly reduce complications arising from radiotherapy for head and neck cancer," said Dr Peter van Luijk, a research associate at the University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands.

Around 40% of patients treated for head and neck cancer suffer from the distressing side-effects of dry mouth syndrome a condition that can occur when the parotid gland stops working properly after radiation damage. This causes problems with eating, sleeping, speech, tooth loss and oral hygiene, leading to diminished quality of life, social isolation and difficulty in continuing work. Attempts to treat dry mouth syndrome and its consequences can cost hundreds or even thousands of Euros per patient per year and are mostly insufficient.

Dr van Luijk said: "Parotid gland dysfunction after radiotherapy for head and neck cancer was, and still is, a major clinical problem. During radiotherapy, attempts to minimise the risk of this complication have been aimed at reducing the average dose to the salivary gland, on the assumption that it would not make a difference where in the gland the radiation dose was reduced. However, this does not seem logical according to the anatomy of the salivary gland and, in previous work, we discovered that reductions in the radiotherapy dose to some parts of
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Contact: Emma Mason
wordmason@mac.om
European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO)
Source:Eurekalert

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