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New Help for Radiation-Induced Dry Mouth

Extreme dry mouth is a common concern of patients who undergo radiation to treat head and neck cancers. This condition, though not at all rare or unsurprising can be a particular problem if it persists. Difficulty swallowing may, in fact, lead to a snowball effect that leaves patients suffering from malnourishment and overall poor health. While treatments exist that can help patients fight back from the effects, they tend to come with their own share of problems.

With common medications used to treat dry mouth producing such side effects as diarrhea and dizziness, researchers wanted to try something completely different. Rather than prescribe mediations, researchers from the American Society for Radiation Oncology tried a technique known as ALTENS. This treatment involves the use of electrodes that are placed on acupuncture points. These electrodes are then used to stimulate the acupuncture points with low frequency, high intensity pulses. The initial results showed a rather positive response in patients without the side effects known to be associated with standard oral medications.

All told about 140 patients participated in the trial. Those in the ALTENS group fared well enough that researchers are urging for further study to determine if this alternative to medication may provide relief for patients over the long haul.

Radiation treatments are often essential, life-saving treatments for those with many forms of cancer. These treatments do, however, tend to present with side effects for patients. Those with head and neck cancer, especially, may suffer from dry mouth that can lead to an array of other concerns. Reporting this side effect to a healthcare provider is a critical step in battling its effects. While ALTENS has yet to be proven in a wider scale trial, there are other options currently available to help patients battle dry mouth and preserve their nutritional levels. If this condition, known as xerostomia, is a concern, be sure to discuss the options for treatment with your oncologist.

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