HOUSTON - The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has been awarded a grant to study whether xerostomia, a debilitating side effect caused by head and neck cancer radiation treatment, can be prevented when acupuncture is part of a patient's treatment regimen.
The $2.7 million grant awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for the study of acupuncture in cancer received a perfect score from peer scientists evaluating grant proposals for NCI.
Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor in MD Anderson's Departments of General Oncology and Behavioral Science, received the funding. The research is in collaboration with MD Anderson's Sister Institution, Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, in Shanghai, China.
Cohen estimates that xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, affects more than 80 percent of head and neck cancer patients undergoing radiation. The side effect can be debilitating for a patient's quality of life, making it difficult to speak, eat, sleep and often results in taste changes.
"Saliva helps keep the oral cavity sterile and healthy," said Cohen, who also is the director of MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program. "It's the initial step in food digestion, meaning patients with xerostomia may not be getting appropriate nutritional absorption from foods if they don't have enough saliva to help the process," said Cohen.
Acupuncture, which derives from traditional Chinese medicine, has been practiced around the world for thousands of years, and is used to relieve pain, treat infertility, and a host of other medical conditions. MD Anderson has offered acupuncture, when appropriate, to patients for pain or other cancer or treatment-related symptoms since 2004.
Numerous small studies suggest that acupuncture helps to treat radiation-induced xerostomia; however, none has examined its use to prevent the development of xerostomia.
"Previous studies, including research conducted at MD Ander
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University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center