Originally published May 2 2009
Acupuncture Eases Radiation-Caused Symptoms in Cancer Patients
by Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
(NaturalNews) A study just reported in the online issue of the journal Head and Neck adds to the growing body of evidence that the ancient healing technique known as acupuncture isn't some kind of hocus pocus quackery that only works via the placebo effect. Researchers from the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center found that weekly acupuncture treatments twice a week relieved symptoms of a condition called xerostomia -- severe and debilitating dry mouth resulting from radiation treatments for head and neck cancer.
After repeated, cumulative doses of radiation used in high levels during cancer treatment, salivary glands are so injured they can shut down, becoming incapable of producing anything close to adequate and normal amounts of saliva. "The quality of life in patients with radiation-induced xerostomia is profoundly impaired," Mark S. Chambers, M.S., D.M.D., a professor in the Department of Dental Oncology at M.D. Anderson, said in a statement to the media. "Symptoms can include altered taste acuity, dental decay, infections of the tissues of the mouth, and difficulty with speaking, eating and swallowing. Conventional treatments have been less than optimal, providing short-term response at best."
Most worrisome is the fact a lack of saliva can rob cancer patients of the very thing they most need to fight their disease -- good nutrition. M. Kay Garcia, LAc, Dr.P.H, a clinical nurse specialist and acupuncturist in M. D. Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program and the study's first author, stated in the press release that patients with xerostomia may develop nutritional deficits that become irreversible.
Dr. Chambers, the study's senior author, pointed out that saliva substitutes, lozenges and chewing gum bring only temporary relief. While there's a medication, pilocarpine, commonly prescribed for the condition, Dr. Chambers said it has only short-lived benefits and exposes patients to bothersome additional drug side effects.
Acupuncture therapy, based on the centuries-old Chinese practice of inserting and manipulating very thin needles at precise points on the body to relieve pain or restore health, is believed by Chinese medicine practitioners to improve the flow of vital energy throughout the body. Dr. Garcia, Dr. Chambers and their team of scientists conducted a study to find out if acupuncture might have an impact on xerostomia.
The M. D. Anderson study included 19 patients suffering from the dry mouth of xerostomia. All had completed radiation therapy at least a month earlier. They received two acupuncture treatments each week for four weeks with the acupuncturist concentrating on points located on the ears, chin, index finger, forearm and lateral surface of the leg. Each research subject was tested for the amount of their saliva and also asked to complete self-assessments and questionnaires about their symptoms and quality of life before the first treatment, after the four weeks of acupuncture was completed and after another four weeks passed.
The results? The twice-a-week acupuncture treatments produced highly statistically significant improvements in symptoms of dry mouth and related symptoms such as mouth and tongue discomfort, difficulty in speaking, eating and sleeping. What's more, a quality-of-life assessment conducted at weeks five and eight showed significant improvements over the quality-of-life scores recorded when the study began.
"In this pilot study, patients with severe xerostomia who underwent acupuncture showed improvements in physical well-being and in subjective symptoms," Dr. Chambers stated "Although the patient population was small, the positive results are encouraging and warrant a larger trial to assess patients over a longer period of time."
The M.D. Anderson group is actively involved in more acupuncture research. "Recently, we completed a study at Fudan University Cancer Hospital in Shanghai, China that compared acupuncture to usual care to prevent xerostomia. We have now started a two-arm placebo-controlled pilot trial in Shanghai. In the prevention trials, acupuncture is performed on the same day as the radiation treatments," Dr. Garcia said. She pointed out in the media statement that M. D. Anderson researchers want to find out whether acupuncture can actually prevent xerostomia in patients treated for head and neck cancer, and not just treat it after it develops.
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About the authorSherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.
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