Washington, June 2 : A new study has suggested that acupuncture provides significant reductions in pain, dysfunction, and dry mouth in head and neck cancer patients after surgery.
The study was led by David Pfister, MD, Chief of the Head and Neck Medical Oncology Service, and Barrie Cassileth, PhD, Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).
Neck dissection is a common procedure for treatment of head and neck cancer.
"Chronic pain and shoulder mobility problems are common after such surgery, adversely affecting quality of life as well as employability for certain occupations," Dr. Pfister said.
Nerve-sparing and other modified radical techniques that preserve certain structures without compromising disease control decrease the incidence of these problems but do not eliminate them entirely.
"Unfortunately, available conventional methods of treatment for pain and dysfunction following neck surgery often have limited benefits, leaving much room for improvement," Dr. Pfister said.
For the study, researchers included 70 patients and they were randomised to receive either acupuncture or usual care, which includes recommendations of physical therapy exercises and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
For all of the patients, at least three months had elapsed since their surgery and radiation treatments.
The treatment group received four sessions of acupuncture over the course of approximately four weeks.
Both groups were evaluated using the Constant-Murley scale, a composite measure of pain, function, and activities of daily living.
Researchers found that pain and mobility improved in 39 percent of the patients receiving acupuncture, as compared to a 7 percent improvement in the group that received usual care.
Another benefit of acupuncture was significant reduction of reported xerostomia, or extreme dry mouth.
This distressing problem, common among cancer patients following radiotherapy in the head and neck, is addressed with only limited success by mainstream means.
Dr. Cassileth said: "Like any other treatment, acupuncture does not work for everyone, but it can be extraordinarily helpful for many."
"It does not treat illness, but acupuncture can control a number of distressing symptoms, such as shortness of breath, anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue, pain, neuropathy, and osteoarthritis," Dr. Cassileth added.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.