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Acupuncture Eases Side Effects of Head, Neck Cancer Treatments

By: Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM

Acupuncture provides significant reductions in pain, dry mouth and shoulder dysfunction for patients after head or neck cancer surgery, according to a clinical study released at the 2008 meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology this month.

Neck dissection, or removal of the lymph nodes and surrounding tissue, is common in treating head and neck cancers. Common side effects of this procedure include pain and shoulder dysfunction.  Postoperative radiation is also frequently administered, leading to dry mouth.

Seventy patients took part in a random study by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) researchers, in New York, at least three months after they underwent cancer surgery and radiation treatment.

The participating patients were randomized to receive weekly acupuncture sessions for four weeks or “customary care”, which includes physical therapy exercises and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Almost 40 percent of participants receiving acupuncture experienced improvements in both pain and mobility, compared with just 7 percent in the standard-care group.

There was also a notable decrease in dry mouth. "Five people in the acupuncture group had improvements as opposed to none in the usual-care arm," study author Dr. David Pfister, chief of the head and neck medical oncology service at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"Although further studies are needed, this does support the potential role of acupuncture," Pfister said.

Source: American Society for Clinical Oncology, June 2008

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