An ancient therapy could prove effective at relieving a common side effect of cancer treatment, a small, new study shows.
Acupuncture was able to reduce dry mouth in people who were receiving radiation therapy to treat their head and neck cancers, reported researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center.
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, occurs when there is not enough saliva in the mouth.
"The medical implications are quite profound in terms of quality of life, because while chronic dry mouth may sound benign, it has a significant impact on sleeping, eating and speaking," study researcher Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., director of MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program, said in a statement. "Without saliva, there can be an increase in microbial growth, possible bone infection and irreversible nutritional deficits."
Researchers examined 86 people with nasopharyngeal carcinoma who were undergoing radiotherapy for their cancer. Forty of the patients received acupuncture three times a week while they received their radiotherapy over seven weeks, while 46 just had regular care.
Researchers monitored the study participants' saliva flow using a Xerostomia Questionnaire -- a score under 30 meant that dry mouth was mild or completely gone.
A month after all the study participants had finished their therapies, researchers found that 54.3 percent of the people who had acupuncture had a Xerostomia Questionnaire score of over 30, while 86.1 percent of people who didn't have acupuncture had a score of over 30.
And then six months after undergoing treatment, researchers found that just 24.1 percent of the people who had acupuncture had a score over 30, while 63.6 percent of the people who didn't had a score of over 30.
Researchers said more studies are needed to see why exactly acupuncture has these benefits.
In 2009, MD Anderson researchers had also found that acupuncture twice a week seemed to relieve dry mouth in cancer patients being treated with radiation therapy, ScienceDaily reported.
Previously, studies have shown that acupuncture can help relieve people experiencing chronic back pain. WebMD reported on a 2009 study showing that acupuncture was actually more effective than physical therapy and drugs at relieving this kind of pain.
Acupuncture is also used to help relieve pain in the neck and joints, as well as headache pain, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.